HortNZ calls for urgent changes to RMA to protect New Zealand fruit and vegetable production

15 April 2024

Horticulture New Zealand (HortNZ) is calling on the Government to ensure changes to the Resource Management Act (RMA) do not put vital domestic fruit and vegetable production at risk.

The organisation, which represents the interests of about 4,200 commercial fruit and vegetable growers, is seeking a range of amendments to proposed reforms, including recognition of the national importance of protecting highly productive land (HPL) for primary production and enabling the supply of fresh fruit and vegetables.

HortNZ has also written to Ministers highlighting the need for changes including permitted activity for discharges from commercial vegetable production (CVP), managed with a certified freshwater farm plan (FWFP).

“National promised to make fruit and vegetables a permitted activity in 2024. We urgently need them to deliver on that promise, through these RMA amendments,” says Nadine Tunley, chief executive of HortNZ.

“Minister Chris Bishop has said the government will change the Act to make it easier to build houses and renewable energy.

“We accept that people need houses, but they also need to eat fresh fruit and vegetables. If the government makes building houses easier, then it also needs to make changes to the RMA to enable the supply of fresh fruit and vegetables.

“If the amendments do not recognise the importance of that, it will increase the risks to New Zealand’s food supply and exacerbate the cost-of-living crisis.”

While the New Zealand population grew by 138,000 last year, council rules are currently preventing vegetable growers from growing more produce, says Tunley.

“While housing has gobbled up highly productive land over the past 10 years, the area for growing vegetables has not expanded at all. This is because the RMA is preventing vegetable growers from expanding in many regions.

The localised effects of CVP can be managed with a FWFP, without causing significant adverse environmental effects, and the National Policy Statement for Freshwater supports the management of cumulative effects though freshwater limits.”

The horticulture sector plays a vital role in food security in New Zealand. Approximately 80,000 hectares of land is used for producing fruit and vegetables, providing over 40,000 jobs. Over 80 per cent of vegetables grown are for the domestic market, with many varieties of fruit also serving the New Zealand market.

HortNZ is also calling for the amendments to the RMA to include:

  • Making protection of highly productive land a matter of national importance and amending the National Policy Statement on Highly Productive Land to refer to ‘primary production’ rather than ‘land based primary production’, to allow for greenhouses and ancillary activities, and refining the definition of highly productive land to reflect product capacity of the land.
  • The supply of fresh fruit and vegetables to be made a matter that all RMA practitioners have particular regard to.
  • Crop survival water - just the amount of water necessary to prevent the loss of horticultural crops for human consumption – to be afforded the same protections as stock drinking water.
  • Creation of a national body under the Ministry for the Environment to approve industry assurance programmes, rather than requiring each regional council to approve the same programmes.
  • Changing the definition of Te Mana o te Wai and ‘human health’ to support decision making that recognises the fundamental trade-offs necessary to achieve environmental improvements while keeping the people and the economy healthy.
  • Improving the definitions of ‘auditor’ and ‘certifier’ for FWFPs, to align with international standards.
  • Providing regional councils with the option to approve a ‘FWFP standard’ equivalent to national requirements.
  • Prioritising resilient regional infrastructure, enabling the production and transportation of fresh fruits and vegetables and making provision of freshwater harvesting and storage relevant factors when deciding if a matter is a proposal of national significance.