Thursday, March 26, 2009

Tree hugger

As Minister of Forestry and Minister for Biosecurity, I have a special interest in these portfolio areas. The significance of both forestry and biosecurity was further confirmed to me during visits to both to Tauranga and Rotorua over the past month.

Apart from forestry’s economic role in sustainable development, it is valued for recreation and its place in the landscape. Due to the value we, as a country, place on this resource, getting biosecurity right is also critical. The arrival of a major forestry pest or disease would be devastating.

It is for this reason the New Zealand Government is committed to improving our already internationally well regarded biosecurity system, which is vital to primary industries and to New Zealand as a whole.

My recent Rotorua trips have been in relation to Scion, the Crown Research Institute that is recognised as a leader in forestry science.

I firstly toured Scion facilities and secondly opened an international workshop on forestry and biosecurity.

Scion is doing some great work. Wood has such potential in markets that are increasingly demanding environmental sustainability.

One of the new projects that amazed me was a smart packaging product – a biodegradable wood replacement for polystyrene – about time we had an environmental friendly packaging for whiteware you might say.

While in the Bay MAF Biosecurity took the opportunity to show me around the Port of Tauranga where I looked at biosecurity, surveillance and monitoring of forest plots.
Around the port is a high biosecurity risk area. I was impressed with the systems that have been established to monitor any incursions that might breach our border.

It is impossible for any country, even a geographically remote island nation like New Zealand, to isolate itself from all risks of imported pests and diseases.

For this reason it was especially relevant for me to be part of the international biosecurity and forestry conference hosted by Scion just a few weeks later. The conference was about promoting global cooperation in forest-related research and enhancing the understanding of the ecological, economic and social aspects of forests and trees.

Significant benefits to New Zealand will result from links with international science, particularly as biosecurity is so important to New Zealand’s economy and society.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Good for the environment is good for business

This morning I launched the latest Dairying and Clean Streams: Snapshot of Progress.

When it was developed back in 2003, the Dairying and Clean Streams Accord was a welcome initiative.

Farmers are implicitly connected with their land. Their land is also their business and they are motivated to take care of, and preserve their number one asset. For this reason they are constantly trialling new and better ways of doing things.

Five years down the track, the Accord is still one of the key indicators of the desire in the dairy industry to improve water quality.

The Accord results reveal three targets are well on track for 2012. These include: exclusion of stock from waterways; bridging and culverting; and adopting nutrient budgets. I congratulate the dairy farmers of New Zealand on these results and welcome the progress made by the dairy industry in cleaning up rivers and streams on dairy farms.

But I also used this opportunity to send a strong message to farmers who refuse to toe the line.

The small number of dairy farmers who ignore effluent disposal requirements are damaging the reputation of the dairy industry as a whole.

It is simply unacceptable to pollute. Not only does it antagonise environmental organisations but also wider New Zealand. More importantly, it risks the hard-gained reputation that New Zealand Inc. has established in our international markets.

I am expecting an improvement in the progress on this target because clean fresh water is of intrinsic value to farmers; we can't do business without it.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Agriculture - New Zealand's Super Hero

I thought this cartoon by Guy Body in yesterday's New Zealand Herald hit the nail on the head. Yes, agriculture is absolutely important to New Zealand and the key to recovery from the current economic climate.

Monday, March 2, 2009

An honourable profession

According to the Readers Digest, vets rank in the top ten of New Zealand’s most trusted professions. In fact, they rank number seven, two ahead of teachers, two behind doctors and three behind nurses.

As both a farmer, which ranks 13 on the list, and a politician, which ranks 39, it was with great pleasure last week I announced the Government’s new Graduate Bonding Scheme with my colleagues, Education Minister Anne Tolley and Health Minister Tony Ryall. See full New Zealand’s most trusted professions list.

The initiative addresses shortages of vets, doctors, midwives, nurses and teachers.

Rural areas can face greater challenges recruiting and retaining professionals due to isolation and remoteness. As Minister of Agriculture, one of the areas I will be focusing on is strengthening rural communities. The combined effect of the new graduate bonding scheme will do just that.

As I will tell the Veterinary Council tonight, when I open their new premises in Wellington, the voluntary bonding scheme for vets will see new graduates taking on rural practice, gumboots and all.

The scheme is targeted at rural vet practices working with farmed animals and encourages new graduates to stay on by providing a taxable payment of $11,000 each year, for up to five years.

More on the Vet Bonding Scheme.