Clarky's Comment - February

The slow recovery of international dairy prices, strong performance of horticulture crops and the rise in interest in cultivating manuka for honey production cause me to reflect on the value to NZ of a diversified portfolio of productive land use. At exports of $242 million (Year end June 2015) the honey industry is a well-established sector. It has been growing fast and still has potential for massive expansion. Furthermore manuka is an indigenous plant that thrives on some of our steepest most erodible hill country where it is difficult to harvest pine trees without causing stream sedimentation.

Foresters are considering what parts of their most problematic land should not be dedicated to a second crop of pine trees given the environmental and safety challenges of harvesting some steep land in Northland, East Coast and Marlborough in particular. The option of income from honey production from those parts of the land unsuitable for pines should make these decisions easier.

New Zealand relies heavily on its productive soils and clean water for our economic well-being. As land managers or owners we are on this earth for just a very short time. The prosperity of future generations of New Zealanders would be enhanced if the land use decisions we made properly align with what the ecosystem can sustain over the very long term. As recently noted by Westpac economists the on-going exclusion of the agriculture sector from the ETS has the consequence of distorting land use decisions in favour of the more polluting activities. Apart from other sectors having to pick up the tab for agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions, there are many catchments where the true cost of freshwater pollution is avoided by those profiting from the land. The Waipa and Waikato river catchments are clear cases where land use policies need to change.

I spent a portion of my early working life cutting manuka down to make way for sheep and pine trees. But growing manuka for honey ticks a lot of boxes in terms of a sustainable land use.