Time to reassess Government irrigation spend

The Green Party is supporting calls for a moratorium on big, publicly subsidised irrigation schemes that are bad for the environment and bad for the economy, the Green Party said today.

The Tourism Export Council and the Environmental Defence Society have called for a five-year ban on new irrigation in the wake of the collapse of dairy prices internationally. The groups have also said that the growth in intensive farming is a disaster for our rivers and streams.

“This is the wrong time for the Government to be providing huge public subsidies for the intensification of the dairy industry. It’s bad for the environment and bad for the economy,” said Green Party Co-Leader James Shaw.

“The Prime Minister is incorrect to say that large scale irrigation projects can be good for the environment. The fact that the tourism industry and environmental NGOs are calling for a stop to public subsidies for big irrigation schemes is proof of that.

“It’s not clear if the dairy downturn is cyclical or structural. Given the uncertainty, it’s a huge risk to be ploughing ahead with big public subsidies for irrigation.

“The future of high-cost, intensive dairy farming is about as lucrative as investing in coal.

“Specifically, we are calling for National to stop further grants from Crown Irrigation Investment Ltd and to reassess further grants from the Irrigation Acceleration Fund. This could save up to $280 million of good money being thrown after bad.”

Dairy farming and manufacturing are a smaller part of the economy than tourism. In 2013, dairying contributed around 3.1 percent of total GDP while tourism contributed 4.7 percent. Last year, total tourism expenditure was $29.8 billion, an increase of 10.3 percent from the previous year.

“The dairy intensification that irrigation schemes allow carries a massive cost for our rivers, aquifers, and lakes which are polluted by farm run-off,” said Mr Shaw.

“National has no strong plans in place that will halt the decline of our rivers, aquifers, and lakes from dairy expansion. Their bottom line for “wadeable” rivers is weak; New Zealanders want rivers and lakes they can swim in.

“The quality of our environment underpins tourism. Risking our $30 billion tourism industry for further intensification of the dairy sector is economically and environmentally indefensible,” said Mr Shaw.

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