Continued urban and lifestyle block expansion into prime growing land needs urgent action at a national level, according to Horticulture New Zealand’s natural resources and environment manager Michelle Sands.
Ms Sands says the Environment Aotearoa 2019 report, released recently by the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ, shows that urban sprawl threatens the limited versatile land surrounding regional centres such as Auckland.
She says that as a result, food could become more expensive and New Zealanders could find themselves more reliant on imported food.
Lifestyle blocks are seen as a particular threat with an average of 5800 new blocks a year since 1998, many of which encroach upon prime growing soils. In Auckland alone, 35 per cent of good growing land is being used as lifestyle blocks.
“This loss of versatile land can force growers onto less naturally productive land, or out of production entirely. We can’t afford to keep losing high-quality soils.
“Some of this soil is unique such as the volcanic soils around Pukekohe where vegetables can be grown year-round. All land is not created equal, and these types of high class soils cannot be replicated elsewhere.
“This land will become increasingly important if we are to diversify our agriculture and transition to a
low emissions economy. New
Zealand has a growing population, and we need healthy fruit and vegetables; we cannot feed more people with less land.”
Ms Sands says Horticulture New Zealand is awaiting the release of a national policy statement on highly productive soils, which is due out for public consultation around the middle of this year.
According to the Environment Aotearoa report, the area of urban land in New Zealand increased by 10 per cent between 1996 and 2012. Between 1990 and 2008, 29 per cent of this growth was on ‘versatile’ land.
The report states that the loss of versatile land is happening at the same time as New Zealand’s food production system is under pressure to increase production without increasing its effect on the environment. This loss can force growers onto more marginal land that is naturally less productive and requires more inputs, such as fertiliser.
Urban growth also often reduces native habitats and biodiversity. Native land cover in New Zealand accounts for less than two per cent of land in urban centres and only 10 per cent on the urban-rural boundary.