Saturday, December 9, 2023

Big turnout fights farm upheaval

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Government requirements for freshwater management in Canterbury are so severe they amount to economic vandalism on farming communities, Mid Canterbury Federated Farmers president David Clark says.
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About 500 farmers and other people connected to agriculture met in Ashburton on Monday night and overwhelmingly endorsed a strong response in submissions on the plans.

“We’re being told that a tough set of goals we have now which are achievable with hard work are being replaced by goals which aren’t achievable except by economic and social upheaval.”

The changes relate to nitrogen levels leaching into waterways, with the allowable rate to be reduced by 50% to 80% below the levels in the current national policy statement. 

The proposed rules were put to farmers without any analysis on the economic and social impacts.

“There’s still no analysis and we believe it is a poor showing by the Government. People at the meeting were concerned and disappointed.”

The Mid Canterbury fears are based on a report by Environment Canterbury to the Ministry for the Environment in 2017 on the likely impacts of plans for greatly reduced nitrate limits in the Selwyn Te Waihora catchment in and around Lake Ellesmere. They included loss of farms, job losses, land value cuts, loss of equity and possible bankruptcy for farmers with debts that cannot be managed through a transition. 

That plan was roundly rejected by nearly everyone, including environmental advisers, as unattainable and not economically viable and did not proceed but the proposed nitrate limits for that catchment and now for wider Canterbury are quite similar, Clark said.

Submissions on the Government’s freshwater plans will be made directly to the Cabinet, without any reviews at select committee level, he said.  

“It will be up to the Government to decide if they take any notice of us. We just have to wait and see, and when their final ruling comes out we won’t be able to comment on it.”

The draft plan requires a limit of 1mg of dissolved nitrate to one litre of water in the waterways, a massive departure from existing rules, under ECan’s land and water plan of a target of under 6.9mg/l.

“The strong flow rivers are fine, they’ve got nitrate levels below 1mg, but the problem is that this will apply to all waterways, including low-flow lowland streams and all outlet drains and that will have a massive impact.”

There are other rule changes but the nitrate level is the major concern in Canterbury. 

Farmers were also angry at being given a short time to make submissions on complex changes, coming straight after submissions being due on the Zero Carbon Bill. 

One of the authors of the 2017 ECan report on Selwyn Te Waihora was its chief scientist Tim Davie. Along with Simon Harris, of Land and Water People, he wrote that change on the scale suggested meant there would effectively be no irrigation or intensive land use in the catchment and forestry or extensive grazing would dominate the landscape.

Clark noted their comment that such large-scale effective retirement of intensive land had not been experienced in New Zealand on any scale and would lead to significant changes in the social structure of the catchment.

The required reduction in nitrate levels could not be achieved either by mitigation or by reducing intensity of the production systems. That would effectively leave just dryland sheep and beef and forestry as land-use options.

Clark said the Government plans for all of Canterbury would lead to the same risks that in the end stopped the Selwyn Te Waihora proposals being adopted.

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