Friday, November 05, 2010

National's plan for growth: More cows

Earlier in the week I blogged about what the OIA had uncovered about National's "plan" to catch Australia. While focused on highlighting Gerry Brownlee's dishonesty over the existence of milestones and targets (short version: he lied to Parliament), it has turned up some interesting information - such as the fact that their "plan" rests on discovering massive amounts of oil. Ignoring such optimistic assumptions, what does that leave?

The presentation to the Cabinet Strategy Committee, Achieving New Zealand's Economic Potential: Exploiting International Opportunities by Harnessing our Strengths (15 September 2009), recommended a strong focus on the high-tech manufacturing and services sectors. The key policies were supposed to be government coinvestment to help firms overcome capital constraints, and a strong focus on assistance with R&D (described as "replacing the R&D tax credit"). Neither of these has happened, or looks likely to. Which means that National's ambitious growth targets there won't be met. So what does that leave?

That's right: farming. And in particular, dairy farming.

Somewhat oddly, Brownlee attempted to withhold all information on the dairy industry's current and expected growth on the basis that it would "prejudice the security or defence of New Zealand or the international relations of the Government of New Zealand". More likely that it would prejudice the popularity of the government. Because he stupidly missed a bit. And that shows that National plans a massive expansion of dairy farming. Currently, the dairy industry is worth $10.15 billion a year. At its expected growth rate of 3% a year, they expect it to be worth $16.9 billion in 2025. They want it to be worth $25.9 billion. In other words, they want to double the growth rate, and more than double the size of, the dairy industry.

Some of this growth will apparently come from increased offshore production, driven by a restructuring of Fonterra to allow them to raise capital more easily (the information on that is largely withheld, unfortunately). Some of it - but not much - will come through more efficient cows. But most of it will come through simply increasing the size of the dairy herd. In other words, their plan for growth is "more cows". Which means more shit and nitrates fouling our waterways, and more greenhouse gases fouling our atmosphere. We can barely cope with the environmental footprint of dairy farming as it is, and National is planning to double it. At the same time, they plan to

promote NZ as synonymous with products and services that are safe, secure and sustainable that are good for the consumer and for the planet.
How they intend to do this when we are drowning in cowshit is anyone's guess. maybe a glossy PR campaign, and hoping that no-one ever actually looks at a river?

Meanwhile, there are a few other scary ideas in their dairy plans. "Review[ing] incentives for rational irrigation, storage, and water use decisions" for a start. In other words, giving all the water to farmers for free. When government Ministers like David Carter spout ignorant bullshit like "Here in Canterbury 96 percent of all water flows out to sea" (that is, we have rivers), then you have to worry.

Then there's this little bit in the "Barriers and issues" section:

Market acceptability of GM would have to be tested and may require modifications to the HSNO Act.
So, the government wants genetically modified cows. But at the same time, it wants to promote us as safe and sustainable. Good luck with that. European customers have spoken: they hate GM, and don't want it in their food chain. So quite apart from any domestic issues, its just a dumb commercial decision. But as we've already seen with water and climate change, farmers aren't the sharpest tools in the shed when it comes to environmental branding.

So, National's plan for growth is to do the same thing we've always done, only more of it and dirtier. Its exactly the sort of plan I'd expect from narrow-minded, jealous farmers. But it won't see us catch Australia anytime soon. On their core promise, National has no real plan to deliver.