Friday, July 8, 2022

Joint approach on nutrients welcomed

Rotorua dairy farmers have received recognition from the Bay of Plenty Regional Council of the contribution they make to the local economy in a new agreement. Rotorua/Taupo Federated Farmers president Neil Heather said Rotorua’s GDP grew by 5% last year and 2.1% of that was due to dairy farming. “Agriculture contributes 16.8% of Rotorua’s gross domestic product (GDP) and tourism is 3.3%. So it’s a huge contributor to the local economy and for once we had that recognised.” The Lake Rotorua Primary Producers Collective, Federated Farmers and the council have signed a memorandum of understanding on reducing nutrients entering Lake Rotorua which will give dairy farmers more time to reduce nitrogen (N) levels.

The council wanted to achieve nutrient reduction by 2022 under its proposed regional policy statement, which was challenged by the federation and DairyNZ in the Environment Court. But Rotorua MP Todd McClay intervened in November last year to help reach consensus.

"What was clear from both sides is that they wanted to agree on the principles and processes that will be used to reach nutrient reduction targets while ensuring agriculture is still viable in the Lake Rotorua catchment," he said.

Under the memorandum farmers and the council will cooperate to achieve the sustainable N load by 2032, with 70% of the target achieved by 2022.

Heather said Rotorua farmers have already achieved 30% of that 70% reduction. But there was still a long way to go and he was worried about them getting a pay back on the investment they’d already made.

“Dairy farmers have been spending huge amounts of money on lined ponds, irrigation systems and standoff pads over the last few years,” he said.

“They’re going to have to make further investment and probably further cuts. It’s still early days, but it does worry me that they might have to reduce their production to actually be able to meet those targets.”

Farmers will be able to make their concerns known through a stakeholder advisory group which will work with the council to develop the rules and incentives required to achieve nutrient reductions.

“We’ve been fighting regional council over this for 10 years and it’s nice to finish that and to all work together to achieve the outcome that’s required,” Heather said.

DairyNZ research shows water quality in the lake has been improving over the last 10 years, dropping from a 4.8 trophic level index (TLI) to 4.1. DairyNZ environmental policy manager Dr Mike Scarsbrook said there’s confidence water quality will continue to improve.

“As the community's goals for water quality are currently being met, we can afford to take this extra time to look for solutions that will be economically, socially and culturally as well as environmentally sustainable,” he said.

“There are going to be real opportunities here for profitable, innovative and sustainable farm systems for a long time into the future.”

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