New Zealand’s fragmenting farmlands – Expert Reaction

New Zealand’s highly productive farmlands have been decreasing over the last two decades as residential developments such as lifestyle blocks grow, according to a new report.

Our land 2021 says the area of highly productive land that was unavailable for agriculture – because it had a house on it – increased by 54 per cent from 2002 to 2019. The number of consumers in New Zealand is projected to reach 6.8 million by 2073, which the report says will “continue to drive the demand on land to supply food, housing, and opportunities for recreation.”

The SMC asked experts to comment on this report.

Associate Professor Amanda Black, Bio Protection Aotearoa, Lincoln University, comments:

“The release of Our land 2021 provides a good comprehensive review of the critical issues facing our land, which is fragmentation and intensification. Our land supports us not only to grow our food, but provides the platform for our primary sector, which we will need to support us economically as we recover from the impacts of a world pandemic.

“Aotearoa New Zealand is really at the crossroads of business as usual to a more informed and intergenerational approach to managing our lands. Fragmentation and unimpeded urban sprawl that covers our best productive soils threatens to undermine our ability to feed ourselves and pay our bills.

“Once land is in housing it is gone for good. The loss of good productive soil is bad enough but the additional spillover impacts of creating urban areas means that we would be limited in how we manage weeds and pests, potentially creating weed and disease havens. We need to protect our best land and to do that we need strong policy.”

Conflict of interest statement: “Amanda Black provided advice on the report as an expert in the area.”

Dr Anne-Gaelle Ausseil, Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, comments:

Our land 2021 takes a deep-dive approach compared to its predecessor Our land 2018. While the 2018 report depicted most issues related to how we impact and depend on the land, this report focuses on new knowledge and data acquired on the impact of land use and land cover changes.

“A lot of it is the result of a successful partnership between Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, the Ministry for the Environment, and StatsNZ to ensure a robust process was in place for data quality assurance and scientific due diligence.

“For instance, this report explores the impact of urban and rural residential expansion on productive land. This is an issue as only 14.4% of New Zealand is so-called ‘highly productive land’, with suitable soil, topography and climate to grow a variety of crops. Urban and rural residential expansion around cities like Auckland, Hamilton or Christchurch has disproportionally affected this highly productive land. Ongoing and uncoordinated expansion on New Zealand’s best land might restrict future opportunities for our agricultural sector, which also faces a growing need to not only limit its impacts on the environment but also to adapt to climate change.

“These new data and analyses will be crucial to inform future policy direction, but these are still only pieces of a big puzzle. We still have a long way to go to fill gaps in knowledge and ensure a balanced approach is in place to safeguard both the environment and people’s wellbeing.”

Conflict of interest: “I was part of the Senior Science and Mātauranga Team to provide scientific advice.”