Talk of dirty politics may have peppered this year’s election campaign but it was the issue of dirty water – and how it can be avoided – which dominated discussion when Greens co-leader Russel Norman launched his party’s rivers policy at a property near Raglan last weekend.

Media out on the campaign trail, along with a bevvy of Green candidates, descended last Sunday on the Waitetuna Valley dairy farm of Mike and Madeline Moss for a launch that was definitely out of the political mainstream.

This time the muddy boot was on the other foot for Norman, who rather than embark on his customary search for a dirty country stream instead praised the Mosses’ passion for soil and water quality and their “amazing” riparian strips which had kept the streams running through their farm clean for the past 10 years.

“They now have an incredible 14kms of fenced and planted waterways, and nine hectares of protected waterways,” Norman said in announcing the Greens’ plans to introduce a national environment standard for fencing of livestock and riparian strips.

“This is a smart farm in action, and proof of how financially, environmentally and socially rewarding a sustainable farming system can be.”

Mike Moss – subsequently labelled in a New Zealand Herald report as the Greens’ “poster farmer” – told the gathering of how he started noticing a marked improvement in water quality after starting 30 years ago to fence the Waitetuna Stream and other waterways and wetlands.

But he emphasised the real turning point came nearly two decades ago when Whaingaroa Harbour Care came along with a “refreshingly collaborative approach to farmers” aimed at cleaning up the harbour.

“The benefits we are seeing from the riparian work carried out have far exceeded our expectations,” he said, listing 12 ranging from no stock losses, improved stock control and shelter both for stock and pastures through to improved habitat for biodiversity, better ability to trap nutrients and a farm that was aesthetically pleasing.

There was also one benefit “I would never have anticipated … the image or branding of this farm”.
Norman, in his speech, also thanked Fred Lichtwark for managing Whaingaroa Harbour Care’s restoration of the harbour catchment by planting no fewer than 1.5 million native trees along streams and harbour edges. “Again, smart land management in action,” he told those at the policy launch.

The Greens also announced in their self-described “smart farming plan” a charge on water used for irrigation, with every dollar generated going back into cleaning up the country’s waterways.

Later, in a “grand tour” of the farm, Moss took Norman down to a little stream where he’d earlier caught a couple of kokopu and koura in buckets.

The Moss farm, which has 130 milking cows and some sheep and beef, was described in the New Zealand Herald report as being non-organic but Mike Moss points out that it was organically certified for many years. The move away from certification came on the back of last year’s drought, he explains.

“We couldn’t buy enough organic feed and had some issues with Fonterra, but we haven’t dropped the principles by which we farm.”

A. T