Topic: Agri-environmental Governance in New Zealand: Exploring Farmers’ Responses to Local Government-led Policies
Keywords: agri-environmental governance, public policy, resource management, New Zealand
Operating under the Resource Management Act 1991, regional councils in New Zealand are institutional entities managing the effects of human activities on the environment. Their role include the implementation of regional plans for regulating natural resource management. In a country heavily reliant on farming and agricultural exports, regional plans aim to improve or safeguard certain environmental features and are thus de facto targeting farmers. Plans also involve an essential consultation process based on written submissions and public hearings for all impacted parties. Taking place within a public demand for stronger state intervention, regional plans embody instruments of re-regulation in a contrasting and well commented upon background of neoliberal deregulation that peaked in the 80s. While the latter phenomenon and its impacts have been thoroughly studied by agri-food scholars, little attention has been set on public policy instruments and their consequences within the field of agri-environmental governance in New Zealand.
Based on an ongoing PhD research, this paper delves into the development and implementation of a regional plan in the farming region of Southland, the proposed Southland Water and Land Plan, which addresses primarily decreasing water quality by following a central government-based guideline, known as the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management. By using data stemming from over 900 submissions along with in-depth interviews with Southland farmers, this paper focuses on farmers’ responses to this regional plan. Submissions are above all conveyed by farmers and highlight a broad array of concerns such as financial pressure, the importance of work autonomy, bureaucratisation of farming and apprehensions about the resource consent regime. By assessing and deconstructing farmers’ responses to this plan, this paper aims to analyse the transformative potential of agri-environmental public policies in a devolved regulation context.