Yes, all the animals on our property have names, but I’m still an avid reader of Farmers Weekly. Its news from around the country helps me better appreciate what’s going on in our own rural economy.

For example …

“Taupo scheme in disarray” claims this week’s front page headline. This lead story is about failed attempts of the Lake Taupo Protection Trust to make successful deals that — for example, by retiring land from farming — would reduce the nitrogen loads into the catchment. Unfortunately, the deals that have been entered at a cost of $24 million (a third of the funds available) have achieved only 10% of the nitrogen reduction goal.

From the Trust’s website:

“Over the next 10 years, the Lake Taupo Protection Trust administer a public fund to encourage and assist land use change, purchase land or nitrogen in the Lake Taupo catchment and fund research and other initiatives that assist land owners to reduce the nitrogen impact of their activities on Lake Taupo …

The Trust is charged with developing a programme of work that will reduce the amount of manageable nitrogen leaching into the lake by 20 per cent.

It will use the funds to encourage and assist land use change, to purchase land/nitrogen in the Lake Taupo catchment and to fund any other initiatives that assist land owner to reduce the nitrogen impact of their activities on Lake Taupo.

The Trust reports to the Government (MfE), Ngati Tuwharetoa, the Taupo District Council, and Environment Waikato.”

Each of those four parties has two representatives on a “Joint Committee” which in turn appoints up to eight members of the Trust. The backgrounds of the trustees (all from the private sector) suggest a group suited to the task they have been given.

But it doesn’t seem to be working.

Read that and imagine: HB Regional Council’s Holding Company. Maybe a Holding Company that owns a “Waterco” (as the HBRC intends) that in turn owns and manages a water harvesting scheme in Central Hawke’s Bay. Is there any reason to think “Waterco” would do its job any better than the Lake Taupo Protection Trust?

I’m not picking on the Holding Company concept. I’m simply suggesting that maybe the Lake Taupo situation holds lessons for how — or how not — to delegate critical public responsibilities.

Here in Hawke’s Bay, successfully achieving the Regional Council’s ambition — leveraging its financial strength to produce better returns through regional infrastructure investments — will require a convergence of sound underlying strategy, appropriate governance structure, and excellent selection of people.

The Lake Taupo experience suggests that our Regional Council — struggling even now with the comparatively modest predicament of Venture Hawke’s Bay — should not underestimate the risks and challenges associated with the investment strategy it has embraced.

Tom Belford

P.S. Another story with HB relevance deals with Ag Minister Carter expanding the scope of the Community Irrigation Fund (important news for HBRC’s water harvesting feasibility study?); and yet another talks about the Agricultural Research Group on Sustainability (ARGOS), which has a mandate “to examine the environmental, social and economic sustainability of NZ farming systems.” [Any Hawke’s Bay players in this one?] Heaps more edifying than reading HB Today!

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