Will increased compliance promote growth?
The simple answer is, that depends on what the requirements are. First some facts. Over the past compliance for growers exponentially increased. A few examples include requirements under the Food Act, an avalanche of environmental requirements, and consents required for changing the types of vegetables that are grown. In addition, extensive and complicated compliance rules and approval regimes have been imposed on growers, adding cost and time to their business before they can grow their vegetables and fruit. A prime example is reasonable access to water and water storage. We are told that climate change, in addition to causing increased adverse weather events, will be increased dry periods, especially on the eastern side of New Zealand. Plants need water to grow and enabling water storage and projects for aquifer recharge should be prioritised and supported by both regional and central government. Even the most simple water storage projects take years and thousands of dollars to just get to the stage of construction, so we need to be planning ahead. This is something that must be sorted out to enable us to feed New Zealand.
There is needless and growth inhibiting compliance. The prime example is the Auckland regional fuel tax. Auckland-based growers have to pay this tax for machinery, tractors and plant that are used on farm and off the road. The tax is supposed to be for roading. Our consistent submission has been that off road fuel use that grows healthy food for our nation should be exempt from this regional fuel tax. There is a complicated rebate system that in the majority of cases, results in growers having to wait three months before that can make a claim. Some growers are electing not to claim rebates, because of the time and cost involved, and others are consideringemploying someone to make the claims. This is a tax that in equity and fairness should not be imposed on growers and farmers.
There are the increased employment law requirements that are proposed in a series of Bills being considered by Parliament. Our key submission is that New Zealand’s employment law as it stands today is fit for purpose and, if there are any changes needed, increased enforcement and education are what is required. Forcing unionisation on newly employed workers and increasing the powers of unions to access work areas will not improve our employment law and may well result in increased costs and less efficiency.
That is not to say that of all this increased regulation is a backward step. There are some essential environmental and food safety requirements that are needed to ensure sustainability and the production of best quality produce. The key issue is how this is achieved. Many growers are facing the prospect of an endless stream of inspectors and auditors coming up their drive, every day of the week,taking valuable time away from their prime job of growing food. They are facing the prospect of conflicting requirements that by default, becomes their job to fix. This leaves little time to grow healthy produce. It is truly the age of the bureaucrat.
One option we are actively pursuing is the “one auditor up the drive”. This can be achieved by horticulture’s good agriculture practice(GAP) programmes. The one operated by New Zealand growers, but internationally benchmarked, is called NZGAP. Like the other horticulture GAP programmes run in New Zealand, its aims to incorporate many of these additional rules and regulations into the one programme. This includes Food Act, environment and employment law requirements, plus meeting fair trade requirements. The challenge here is getting local and central government to recognise and accept our GAP schemes. It is pleasing to report that some progress is being made, but the struggle continues to be those in power understanding that horticulture is not the same as pastoral farming.
If the collective “we”, including government and industry, does not make it time-efficient for growers and farmers to satisfy theincreasing number of rules and, if we do not make processes and rules straight forward and enabling, then people will vote with their feet and we will be left with no choice but to import our food. So increased compliance, unless it is done sensibly, will not promote growth, it will drastically inhibit it. There is a real need for Government and industry to work together to ensure that rules are met in the most time-efficient and effective way.