Looking to the future – issues facing the wine industry

Tuesday 27 August 2013

Author: Marija Batistich

First published in NZ Winegrower, August-September 2013 edition.

As we look to the future, there are a number of environmental issues becoming increasingly apparent in New Zealand and overseas. The first is a focus on the sustainable use of natural resources, in particular, water. The second is a health based approach to responding to elements of society that may be abused, such as alcohol. The third is the pressure for urban growth, namely issues with expanding residential boundaries.

Water Issues

Australia is often referred to as the "lucky country" due to the many natural resources which naturally occur there, particularly minerals. While at this stage New Zealand does not appear to have those mineral deposits, it does have a much more temperate (and damp) climate, creating a greater incidence of that other essential resource, water.

The Land and Water Forum was established (with representatives from New Zealand Winegrowers) to consider the best methods for the use and the management of water in New Zealand. The Forum is the first collaborative environment where non-governmental organisations, industry and the Governments have worked together to consider ways to preserve an essential resource, in this case water. The final recommendations of the forum are yet to be released.

However, all operative players in that discussion will say that there is some way to go given that only Auckland ratepayers are used to paying the price for water usage at a residential level, whereas in the rest of the country water charges have not yet materialised. This may well be the reason why in the 2012 year water shortages were evident earlier on in other parts of the country. In Auckland, water pricing had already ensured an element of rational use to the supplier.

As we look to the way in which we sustain our future in terms of production and as a population, we need to consider the extent to which we manage, conserve and protect that which we already have. Implementing a pricing mechanism allows the market to control this.

Health Related Issues

In the last 20 years there has been a sea change towards habitual and recreational matters, which potentially adversely affects public health and the health spending of governments. The first matter to come to mind is smoking. This focus has now moved onto other areas such as high salt and sugar foods from an obesity point of view and to alcohol controls. The increasing control on the supply and availability of alcohol are demonstrated in the latest Sale and Supply of Liquor Act 2012. There is a much more strict approach to the liberal provisions which existed previously. This is particularly evident in relation to the limits on the promotion of alcohol, the extent to which this is discounted and the supervision of minors on licensed premises. The prevalence of RTDs and incidence binge drinking amongst youth led to a step-change approach. In the future it is likely that more controls will be placed on the consumption of alcohol, the purchase of alcohol and the extent to which it is able to be supplied.

What to do at the Rural / Urban Boundary

Issues of reverse sensitivity are by no means new to the wine industry. They have arisen for a number of years and the importance of the industry was it heralded in the now (famous) case of Fraser Shingle Ltd v Hastings District Council. Issues in winegrowing areas around the country have continued to arise where the pressure for residential land and countryside living has encouraged the subdivision of areas that support less profitable agriculture activities. This has lead to an increase of city dwellers on countryside allotments.

Winegrowers will be familiar with issues relating to noise from bird bangers and now more commonly frost fans, as well as issues of tractor noise during harvest and other related matters. The importance of the agriculture economy to New Zealand has often been heralded at these times of global economic recession. However it is still difficult to conceive a consistent approach in maintaining and protecting the value of productive land.

In many regions the attraction of countryside living adjacent to peaceful vineyard environments does not reflect the reality of a working rural productive environment. The housing affordability encouraged the investigation into development of further Greenfield land for residential subdivision, but fails to acknowledge the price this may pay to the productive rural economy.

It is not a question of seeking to protect all rural land without cost; it is important that the practice of ensuring that high grade soils are present in an area that is sufficient to farm is maintained. Where such land is fragmented, aggregation in the future is likely. This is an area in which the industry needs to ensure that it has a voice. On a personal level, those farmers seeking to extract some further value out of land by providing for subdivision must ensure the necessary no complaints covenants are placed on the titles, notifying potential purchasers that they will be purchasing in a working productive environment. In addition, both the industry and its related horticultural and agricultural partners should work with councils to maintain the integrity of the productive environment in the face of increasing pressure for subdivision. This may be done by ensuring that subdivision is controlled and occupies areas where the parcel size is not economic for agricultural purposes or where there is low quality soil.

There are many issues in the environment on the horizon for the industry from an environmental perspective but the key ones can be easily summarised as water, health, and maintaining and providing rural land. These key elements are necessary in order to truly turn water into wine.


Disclaimer

This publication is necessarily brief and general in nature. You should seek professional advice before taking any action in relation to the matters dealt with in this publication.

Related areas of expertise
  • Environment and resource management
  • Food, beverage and hospitality