Two of the three sites for which cubicle dairy farms are proposed were formerly Crown pastoral land, made freehold by the Clark government

When we think of Helen Clark in her former Prime Ministerial capacity, we might recall her on her holidays, hiking and skiing somewhere, with or without sundry members of the Labour caucus. We know how much Labour MPs love wild New Zealand, and love to remind us of it, so the truth about cubicle dairy farming is ... inconvenient.

Labour MP Brendan Burns says he spent a bit of his holidays boning up on the cubicle dairy farming proposals, down in the McKenzie Basin. However, his caucus colleagues know two of the sites quite well because, on 30 May 2003 and 3 April 2006, on Labour’s watch, these former pieces of Crown pastoral land were made freehold, under the Land Information New Zealand (LINZ)-administered process of tenure review.

Cubicle dairy farming resource consent applications have been made in respect of three locations: Ohau Downs (Five Rivers Ltd), Glen Eyrie Downs (Southdown Holdings Ltd), and Killermont Run (Williamson Holdings Ltd). The applicants have already obtained some key consents. The government is considering whether to call in the remaining proposals. I blogged here and here about some reasons they might do that.

The three proposed sites are mapped here, by the Waitaki District Council, to support a description of the applications.

Glen Eyrie Downs and Killermont Run were formerly Crown pastoral land. (Ohau Downs, seems not to have had that level of protection, notwithstanding its close proximity to Lake Ohau.) You can see Glen Eyrie Downs here on LINZ’s Crown pastoral land maps (bottom right, labelled Quailburn). Killermont is here (top right), with Glen Eyrie Downs again (unlabelled).

Of course, on those maps you have to squint. These ones, that show the results of the tenure reviews, are rather clearer: Quailburn here and Killermont here. The parts marked in green on the maps were made over, freehold; the parts marked in pink were restored to Crown ownership and control as conservation areas. The green areas bear an uncanny resemblance to those that are now the subject of Southdown Holdings' and Williamson Holdings’ cubicle dairy farming applications.

The tenure review process is governed by the Crown Pastoral Land Act 1998. It’s a trade off: pastoral lease holders, who would otherwise have had exclusive pastoral farming rights and a perpetual right of renewal, restore some land to Crown ownership for conservation purposes; in return, they get freehold title to the remainder, with or without conditions. It comes at a cost to both parties, over and above any financial cost: the farmer loses land; the Crown gives up its right to manage what has been relinquished.

But the Crown need not give up its rights entirely, and it’s not at all clear from the terms of the Act that it should. The Act puts a heavy emphasis on ecological sustainability. The objects of the tenure review process are said to be:

  1. To promote the management of reviewable land in a way that is ecologically sustainable.
  2. To enable reviewable land capable of economic use to be freed from the management constraints resulting from its tenure, but only subject to that first objective.


While land is Crown pastoral land, consent is required for farming activities (cultivating, cropping, top dressing, burning off, and so on). Upon tenure review, the Act provides for ongoing protective mechanisms, for example under sections 40 and 97, to protect any significant inherent value of the land concerned, or its management in a way that is ecologically sustainable.

Here are the substantive proposals adopted by LINZ for Quailburn and Killermont. They were subject to only basic constraints – nothing of the above kind in either case. We’re seeing the results of that now.

Calling this Labour’s legacy is a bit mischievous, I daresay, but not totally facetious. It’s mischievous because these tenure review proposals were publicly notified and open to submissions; they were probably hard fought negotiations, and probably trade offs were made in what was believed at the time to be the public interest; and hindsight is a fine cliche. Nor is tenure review a direct Ministerial decision. The Commissioner for Crown Lands (who delegates to LINZ) is responsible, which distances Ministers from the process.

However, Ministers responsible for Conservation and LINZ do comment on individual reviews, as David Parker notes in this press release, and even so, we had a lot of this kind of thing from he and Chris Carter over the years, taking full credit for the conservation gains of the tenure review process. It’s relevant that their government gave quite a lot away, as well – in some ill-starred decision-making, as it turns out.

Comments (12)

by Claire Browning on January 20, 2010
Claire Browning

Labour's Brendon Burns has just now issued a media statement (not yet online), hitting out hard at Nick Smith:

So far all Dr Smith has done is kick for touch. When the approach from ECAN was made public, he talked about sending down an official to help. ... Dr Smith is providing no real leadership on this issue – and yet his brief as our Environment Minister includes looking after the precious Mackenzie country landscape and its breathtaking lakes. ... Dr Smith was a lion for the environment in Opposition but the signals from him in Government continue to be less than promising.

All well and good, albeit a little selective, memory-wise.

by Skinman on January 26, 2010

Hi Claire

Have you seen this?

You're one of the more informed, rational commentators on this subject and Alan is obviously one of the more emotional ones. Any interest in writing piece for Farmers Weekly that presents the other side of the argument?

by Skinman on January 26, 2010

Hi Claire

Have you seen this?

You're one of the more informed, rational commentators on this subject and Alan is obviously one of the more emotional ones. Any interest in writing piece for Farmers Weekly that presents the other side of the argument?

by Claire Browning on January 26, 2010
Claire Browning

No, I hadn’t seen it – but no, I won’t be responding to NZ Farmers Weekly, either. I’m a commentator, not a lobbyist. And anyway, I reckon they’d be more interested in hearing from you, as a farmer / Weekly reader (?). Or, if you were thinking I might leap to defence of the Greens … I’d say that’s up to their own spokespeople, if they can be bothered responding to what is pretty clearly a rant. If there is hypocrisy around the Greens opposing rabbit calicivirus (which was illegal, and a biosecurity breach), then defending the resulting (?) pristine McKenzie Basin environment, well, I don’t suppose it’s much different from the tricky line they walk on something like 1080 policy. There are always pros and cons.

However… happy to debate it here on Pundit ...

Regarding the high dollar, and contrasting lack of government response on that issue, he might be interested to read Russel Norman’s and David Cunliffe’s speeches here (Reserve Bank of New Zealand’s Financial Stability Report, November 2009—Consideration of Report of Finance and Expenditure Committee).

But before levelling charges of hysteria and bias, he really should check his own inaccuracies.

One, Nick Smith is not going to make the substantive decision on these proposals. What he’s deciding is whether to call them in – if so, they’d be referred to the Environment Court or (Ministerially appointed) board of inquiry.

Two, when Emerson argues that people who buy land, and comply with all the rules, should be able to let the market decide, he’ll be relieved to hear that is precisely the position – which  is no doubt what people who oppose the proposal are worried about. But first we have to have the conversation about whether it would comply with all the rules.

Three, when he waves this off as a few cows artfully concealed behind trees – it's a few cows emitting effluent equivalent to a city the size of Christchurch, according to the PCE, plus related land uses like crop circles and effluent holding ponds.

Four, regarding media reporting unsubstantiated rhetoric – there was in fact a lot of comment about at the time about precisely why Fonterra, NAWAC chair John Hellstrom, et al, were opposed, and questions were certainly put, and responded to, about whether their objections were evidence-based. We do know the PM’s probably weren’t, at that stage: he tried one line, found it too relaxed to suit the mood, and switched to the prevailing wind in Cabinet at that time.

I think it’s important to try to untangle what are two quite separate issues. First, that a proposal of this kind shouldn’t be permitted in the McKenzie Basin (the instant applications). Second, that it shouldn’t be permitted in NZ at all, which a lot of the argument relates to, and is my own view.

Emerson says himself, NZ would be moving in the same direction as other countries. He talks about maintaining our position as a low cost producer. Surely we can be more aspirational, and “low cost” is the wrong market: we should be positioning ourselves as a premium producer, making that our true point of difference. He puts a few environmental positives (collecting cows’ effluent and turning it into fuel), without any broader analysis of whether the wider project is sustainable (eg, water, fossil fuel), and smart (brand), and morally right (animal welfare).

What I heard from Don Nicholson was not in fact reasoned argument addressing those points, but whingeing, about farmers being allowed to farm profitably (note similar comments from David Carter reported last night), and being pushed in this direction by Greens who then complain about the solution as well as original (emissions) problem.

Just goes to show, I suppose – like your own comment – that anyone with whom one agrees is bound to seem informed and rational!


by Skinman on January 26, 2010

..and for me to be able to hold my 'right' view, I have to be able to allow others to have a 'wrong' view I suppose.



by Skinman on January 27, 2010

Hi Claire, just read that the Minister is calling in the consents and putting them in front of a Board of Inquiry. Also note that NAWAC will issue their new Animal Welfare (Dairy Cattle) Code of Welfare. Not sure if that's a draft for consultation but hopefully it'll spell the end of these ridiculous large-scale cubicle farms without jeopardising the benefits that proper animal housing can bring to farmers pockets, and the environment.

by Claire Browning on January 27, 2010
Claire Browning


There's another angle to this, too, that I think shouldn't be overlooked: I'll post on it some time next week.

It'll be interesting to see the new (Dairy Cattle) Code. The NAWAC codes do require a public consultation and submission process, but I believe this one was being finalised when the story broke, therefore past that stage. John Hellstrom sounded confident there was enough in it to be a robust response to cubicle farming ... and also came across, I thought, as much more sympathetic than his predecessor Peter O'Hara. Which may explain why the Pork Industry Board has resorted to threatening legal action - delaying the release for consultation of the new draft Code for pigs.

by Simon on January 27, 2010


Thats a good point that this type of intensive agricultural development is exactly the logical consequence of the free holding following tenure review. The fact that it happened under Parker and Carter's watch is less indicative of their inattention. At least Parker took the lakeside leases out of the process. He had few other levers to push - short of amending the legislation.

Another point is that the actual conduct of tenure review  barely takes any account of 'ecological sustainability', the main statutory objective of the Crown Pastoral Lands Act 1998. The institutional players (LINZ, lease holders, LINZ agents) carry out the tenure review game according to their own rules which I think means the LINZ agent has to try and 'make a deal' with a recalcitrant lease holder.

Remember the ungrateful Mr Williamson of Ahuriri Station who received $10 million for a "whole-lease" buy out (not strictly a tenure review) and then blocked access to Chris Carter's party with a bulldozer, when Carter came to open the new conservation park?

I would say that the Crown Pastoral Land Act has had its statutory objective just as 'watered-down' (dairy effluent disposal in-joke) as the RMA. As a former resource management person in Canterbury, I also predict that the dairy discharge permits will be granted by the Board of Inquiry. The Environment Court judge Smith has appointed, Jane Borthwick, was the succesful legal counsel for the groundwater applicants who got consents granted in the over-allocated Rakaia Selwyn groundwater zone against Environment Canterbury's recommendation to decline. One other appointee of Smith's, Mike Bowden was a consultant for some of those applicants. By the way and to be absolutely clear, I am not suggesting these individuals have agendas. I am simply saying that the dominant paradigm in resource management is <b>weak sustainability<b/>. The Board of Inquiry will hear some expert witnesses who will say all adverse effects will be reasonably (not completely) mitigated by a suite of consent conditions and that there is no regional plan or national environmental standard or national poicy statement that requires anything stronger than a weak sustainability approach.

by Claire Browning on January 28, 2010
Claire Browning

Simon, thanks. Really useful to have that expert perspective - and in particular, the systemic perspective.

by Claire Browning on January 29, 2010
Claire Browning

I found this comment, posted on Kiwiblog, interesting:

Check out Fed Farmers release on the call-ins. Not sure what’s going on with them but I do know that I polled farmers as part of some work I do for an Ag client and guess what, 85% of those polled (n=215) didn’t support the proposals. In fact the only two farmers who did were both Southland farmers with large herds. So what’s going on? The Feds don’t seem to be echoing the views of their members. I heard that in an unguarded moment Don Nicholson said “I don’t know what’s wrong, they’ve been farming like this in the US for years” and “I know these guys (the Applicants) and they’re good blokes”. Surely the Feds aren’t basing their stance on whether Don likes the factory farmers more than the Greenies, are they? Or the US where feedlots and cubicle farming are proving uneconomic and the trend is back to grass!!! Not only that but they keep calling these things ‘loose housing’. They’re trying to blur the lines between nice, herd homes (which have been proven to increase on-farm profitability and environmental ouctomes) and the MacKenzie proposals which are cubicle farms – that’s factory farms for the uninitiated. I reckon it’s time for change at the Feds. These guys are behaving less like representative advocates for their members and more like reactionaries! PS do you know why Fonterra opposed these things? Because they did the numbers a wee while back and they know that for the majority of their shareholders cubicle farming is less profitable than the current model! The only reason these guys in the MacKenzie are doing it is because they want to force dairy onto a landscape that isn’t suited to it!

by Simon on January 30, 2010

DPF ( if that is his post) is correct, if a bit slow in working that out.

Surely the Feds aren’t basing their stance on whether Don likes the factory farmers more than the Greenies, are they?

Yes they are!  I think Federated Farmers almost automatically respond to anything RMA-related  with a statement that is anti-regulation and which advocates unrestricted property rights.  And remember Don Nicholson's predeccesor Peterson gave that speech damning 'extreme' geenies as being people-haters.

by Claire Browning on January 30, 2010
Claire Browning

No, it was on the comments thread, by "Dobbie".

David's post was illuminating, though. It says, "Any doubts I had evaporated when I read this ... " and goes on to refer to the quantity of effluent. The proposed 1.7 million litre daily discharge has been public information for as long as the proposal - certainly ever since the story broke, two months ago. In determining his editorial stance, it would have taken David about 30 seconds to inform himself of it. Funny, how the evaporation of doubt dovetailed so nicely with the Cabinet's ...

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