Environmental reforms & the 1980 reforms

As a ten year old when David Lange came to power I have vivid memories of the fears of the apocalypse farmers claimed was coming. Lange?s government removed subsidies, and interest rates rose to incredible levels.

Farmers in the 80?s complained about the changes saying it was the end of farming. When Lange visited Hawke?s Bay he was taken to a friend?s parents farm, where he was told that even good farmers were going out of business. This made the front page of the local paper. Farmers kids left private schools to attend free state schools because their parents could no longer afford the fees.

Most farmers will either remember this or be aware of what happened. Farmers struggled for a while and some exited the industry. This would have been traumatic for some, especially those who were running unviable businesses that were propped up by the state, but the industry as a whole succeeded when freed from Muldoon?s corporate welfare.??

Even now New Zealand?s farmers are some of the most passionate advocates for removal of subsidies, import quotas and for the free market. Get a protected Canadian dairy farmer who hides behind tariffs of near 300% in the media and he will be told by a New Zealand farmer that his logic is flawed.

More than thirty years later farmers are making the same argument about environmental standards. The One Plan was going to kill farming in the Manawatu region. Farmers could not be expected to stop polluting and make a profit. Farmers should be allowed to do what they want with their own land, despite the fact that they are polluting other land. Farmers cannot stop polluting and make a profit, and cannot be expected to pay for the right to pollute and stay on the land.

Farmers should consider that the premise of farms failing now due to environmental regulation is the same as the farmers in the eighties making the same claims.

There would be few farmers now who believe the industry is not stronger due to the Lange government?s removal of market distorting government intervention. Environmental regulation is going to cause issues for farmers but these issues are being over emphasised.

Like the farmers in the eighties found a way to stay profitable without corporate welfare, farmers now will find a way to manage with environmental regulation. There are already farms with good environmental management practices that are profitable.

It does not take much imagination to predict that in time being good environmental stewards will be a strong marketing tool for farmers, and that the panic about environmental regulation was unwarranted. It is not much more of a leap to imagine a world where New Zealand farmers are as evangelical about environmental regulation as they are about the removal of subsidies.