Thursday, August 11, 2022

New regulations compel consents for 2023 crops


As many farmers grapple with a looming feed crisis this winter, planning for next winter may also demand attention sooner rather than later with changes in the winter grazing regulations effective from November 1.

The revised intensive winter grazing (IWG) regulations finalised last month may require some farmers to apply for resource consent to winter graze crops on their farm and timelines are getting tight to ensure consent is granted before crops are sown.

AgFirst director of farm consulting James Allen says time can run surprisingly short for a feed supply that is not needed for another 12 months, once resource consent application processes are factored in.

“Basically, a resource consent is required if you are looking at a new wintering programme, there are a series of conditions you have to meet and it’s likely it will take time to ensure you meet them.”

“For some applicants demonstrating their proposal satisfies that threshold may pose a significant challenge.”  

Amy Robinson
Waikato Regional Council

Allen agreed for many upper North Island farmers, winter feed regulations may have been viewed as something only pertinent to Southland’s farming systems.

But with feed costs on an ever-upward plane and farmers exploring all options to grow more feed at home, he says it is possible winter cropping, particularly in places like South Waikato, will be under consideration.

At present Allen’s company is only processing a consent application for one large farming client and he says it was difficult to know exactly how much time, skill and cost each application would involve.

DairyNZ’s lead advisor on solutions and development Justin Kitto says even Canterbury farmers tended to view the winter grazing regulations as more of a “Southland-Otago” issue, but it is not.

He said decisions are being made now that  may need reassessing once the regulations are considered. 

“That could be deciding to use a certain paddock this season as a sacrifice paddock over any wet spells, with a view to sowing it for a winter crop next year.

“Such a paddock may end up exceeding the maximum slope allowable and end up needing a consent to be used for winter crops.”

Kitto says it was understandable if farmers had not yet considered next winter, given the challenges faced just getting through this one.

Waikato Regional Council consents manager Amy Robinson confirmed the national regulations require a consent when the IWG is being conducted on land not used for IWG during the 2014-2019 period, or the area grazed is to increase compared to whatever area was grazed over that time. 

A consent is also required if no freshwater farm plan is held for the property, or certain limits and standards cannot be met. 

These include being unable to remain within the threshold of 10% of farm area or 50ha,and where the slope exceeds 10 degrees. 

Consent is also required where there are issues around stock setbacks from water, critical source areas exist, and pugging issues may exist.

Kitto says he believed the one condition that may trigger a resource consent for most farmers would be the 10 degree slope limit.

Robinson confirmed Waikato Regional Council had received no consent applications as yet. 

She said it was unclear whether the freshwater farm plan pathway would be realistically available to farmers for the 2023 season.

Any consents required for land not used for IWG between 2014-2019, or was increased in area, were generally more involved. 

They represent a new or expanded IWG area and the new regulations set a high effects threshold as to whether they would be granted at all.

“For some applicants demonstrating their proposal satisfies that threshold may pose a significant challenge.”  

She says the time and cost in getting a consent was dependent upon a number of factors, including the application’s quality, scale, location, mitigation, and the environment’s sensitivity.

Under the Resource Management Act a maximum of 20 working days applies for non-notified applications, but timeframes can be extended in some circumstances or put on hold. 

She confirmed if farmers thought a consent was needed for 2023, council recommended they apply as early as practicable. 

A “actual and reasonable” cost would be incurred in processing the consents.

Kitto says when the regulations were sent back for review last year  the industry hoped a simple, cheap consenting template would evolve. 

He understood councils were working together where possible to try and unify and simplify the consent process.

However, farmers could also expect to see some regional-specific variations on the national standards evolve. 

“In Southland for example, the buffer to water courses which is 5m in the national regulations may become 10m under regional rules.”

He says the industry would have preferred a 15 degree slope allowance, and DairyNZ supported farms being able to winter graze a larger area without triggering the need for consent. 

However, the rules around pugging and re-sowing had become more practical.

“And many farmers are already going above and beyond in their efforts around protecting waterways.”

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