with Mike Chapman
Our Land 2018 was released by the the Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand in April. This report draws together the data and details about our country’s biodiversity and ecosystems, above and below ground, that sustain every aspect of life in New Zealand.
It finds that the state of our biodiversity, ecosystems and soil resources continues to decline with a loss of indigenous land cover, coastal and lowland ecosystems, and the decline of indigenous land-based vertebrates and some bird species. Except for some on offshore islands and within fenced sanctuaries, exotic pests are found almost everywhere in NZ. Predation and plant-eating by pests, as well as disease and competition from weeds, continue to threaten our indigenous biodiversity and our commercial vegetable and fruit growing operations.
The report highlights the importance of land to NZ’s continued economic prosperity as our two top export-earners, primary production and tourism, rely on our land. In 2016, half of NZ’s total export earnings came from primary production.
The report substantiates horticulture’s concerns about ongoing urban and lifestyle block expansion into prime growing land. It shows that urgent action is required to slow this down. Fruit and vegetables, in particular, are grown close to cities and towns.
This is because it is where high quality soils are found and before improvements in transportation, produce was grown close to where it was eaten. Between 1996 and 2012 urban land area increased by 10 per cent. Auckland led the urban expansion, followed by the Waikato and Canterbury. Of the high class land in Auckland, 8.3 per cent was lost to houses.
Land fragmentation – where large commercial growing areas are subdivided into smaller lifestyle blocks on the fringes of urban areas – is covered in the report, noting the risk this poses to keeping high quality soils for growing food.
Of Auckland’s most valuable growing land for example, 35 per cent is in lifestyle blocks. Commercial food growing businesses adjacent to new urban areas and lifestyle blocks are getting constrained by sensitivities which affect their ability to grow.
Our question remains – where are we going to grow healthy fruit and vegetables if the high quality soils continue to be lost to urban and lifestyle development? There needs to be a balance between housing and feeding people. If this development is not controlled and constrained, our future ability to feed ourselves and earn valuable export dollars will be lost. Now is the time to act, before it is too late.
Environment Minister David Parker has heard our calls for action and is acting to address the problem. He is quoted as saying about the report: “I was particularly troubled by how much of our urban growth is occurring in our irreplaceable highly productive land. Even in a country as lucky as NZ we only have limited quantities of these high-class soils”.
In fact, only 5.2 per cent of all our land is high quality land. Minister Parker is taking steps to address the loss of prime horticultural land, as well as the impacts lifestyle blocks have on our most productive land. He has asked his Ministry for the Environment to start work on a National Policy Statement protecting Versatile Land and High Class Soils nationwide. He says: “We have to ensure we have enough land to build the houses people need, but we must protect our most productive areas too”.
This is exactly what Horticulture NZ has been campaigning for. An NPS will provide a direction to councils to protect the land we need for growing vegetables and fruit. This is an excellent response and one the Minister is acknowledged for making.