Thousands of farmers have descended on dozens of towns and cities across New Zealand in their tractors in a nationwide protest against a swathe of new environmental regulations.
The Howl of a Protest event was tipped to be the largest of its kind for the rural sector, with motorcades expected in 51 towns and cities.
Farmers drove tractors, bearing placards, from the outskirts of Auckland into the city centre on Friday morning, causing gridlock on the motorways. In Whangarei, protesters took over a sports field, while in Dunedin, a five-kilometre long convoy snaked its way through the city, bringing it to a standstill.
Wellington, where parliament is based, was deliberately left off the itinerary.
The protest was organised by Groundswell NZ, a grassroots organisation made up of farmers, growers, contractors and tradespeople, who say they are frustrated with the interference in private property rights, unworkable climate-change policies and unfair costs.
New Zealand has introduced environmental protections to tackle increasing problems with polluted and unswimmable waterways, catastrophic biodiversity loss, risky agricultural and industrial practices and international commitments to reducing carbon emissions.
Protest organiser Bryce McKenzie told RNZ that farmers accepted they needed to make changes but that a one-size-fits-all approach would not work.
“Farmers are not putting their heads in the sand and saying there isn’t a problem, they’re definitely working very hard to try and make things right. It’s hard to see why regulations [are] going to speed that process up.”
A 2019 government report painted a bleak environmental picture. Four thousand native species are under significant risk of decline or extinction, two-thirds of the country’s rare ecosystems are threatened with collapse, and irrigation from farming along with water use by industry and households has shrunk wetlands to 10% of their original area.
Last year, a Land Air Water Aotearoa report found that 60% of the country’s rivers were unswimmable due to runoff from intensive farming, and wastewater services.
New Zealand is also lagging behind on its climate action, with the 2021 Climate Change Performance Index rankings putting it in 28th place, well behind countries such as the UK, Mexico and India.
Farmers Paul and Jenny Lindsay told Stuff that they were concerned with local councils losing their rights to make decisions.
“We’re all for helping the environment, but it’s got to be doable. It’s not doable at the moment; it’s too much in one go,” Jenny said. Paul said landowners knew how to run their own farms and “shouldn’t be told by someone in Wellington how to do it”.
Ray Jackson, a retired sheep and grain farmer who lives in Timaru, told Stuff that the government’s proposals were “absolutely ridiculous”.
“It is a number of things but the one which is probably affecting today with the tradies here as well is the tax on the utes. It’s poorly thought out. There is no alternatives really. Just another crack at the farming community.”