30 May 2014

Mackenzie Country still unprotected

1:36 pm on 30 May 2014

Twelve months after a historic agreement to the protect the South Island's Mackenzie Country was signed, environmental and farming groups are still waiting for it to become law.

The Mackenzie Agreement aims to help protect the fragile landscapes of the high country region that is being transformed by irrigation developments.

The Mackenzie Agreement has yet to become law.

The Mackenzie Agreement has yet to become law. Photo: PHOTO NZ

Forest and Bird is just one organisation critical of the irrigation that's turning some of the MacKenzie Country from brown to green.

In May last year, there was a possible breakthrough in the long running battle between farmers and the green lobby over land use in the Mackenzie Country.

After two years of discussions between interested parties, the Mackenzie Agreement was released - designed to bring opponents together with the idea of setting up a trust to administer the region

A year later - and not a lot has happened - with the trust proposal still sitting with government officials and still to go before the Cabinet.

Conservation Minister Nick Smith said there had been no decisions by cabinet, either over the funding or the regulatory tools proposed in the Mackenzie Agreement.

The majority of the Mackenzie Country remains in large, pastoral dryland farms - either freehold, or leased from the Crown .

But the profits being made by farmers who introduce irrigation, and dairying operations are attractive to high country sheep farmers who can be struggling financially.

Federated farmers Vice President Willliam Rolleston said some farmers come under increasingly unfair criticism

"Farmers aren't just out there to rape and pillage the land, they actually are part of the landscape and they care about the landscape.

"We've actually started talking about the environment, and I think it's time the environment organisations started talking about the economy."

Despite concerns from farmers Forest and Bird's Jen Miller is one of a number concerned that the vision captured in the Mackenzie Agreement may very soon be an opportunity lost.

And while the debate continues on the future of the MacKenzie Agreement the farmland of the Mackenzie country slowly continues its transformation from brown to green.

Listen to more on this story on the Insight programme, Sunday June 1 after the 8am news.