Saturday, December 2, 2023

Farm plan tick-boxes scorned

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Public health, environmental, infrastructure and recreation groups oppose mandatory freshwater plans for farms, saying clear and explicit rules are a better way to manage high-polluting activities.
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The Public Health Association, Forest and Bird, Fish and Game, Environmental Defence Society, Recreation Aotearoa, Greenpeace, Water New Zealand, Whitewater NZ and Choose Clean Water pooled their efforts to respond to Government proposals on improving the nation’s freshwater quality.

They came up with four fundamental policies, including opposing the use of farm plans as regulatory instruments because clear rules are the best way to achieve the Government’s goal of measurable improvements within five years. 

“We do not support replacing effective rules with farm plans. This will lead to farm plans becoming a tick box exercise for compliance,” the group said.

“They would fail to be used to their greatest potential to drive real environmental change.” 

Submissions on a Ministry for the Environment consultation paper on ways to govern the country’s waterways close at the end of the month. The Government’s proposals are estimated to cost at least $1 billion over 10 years and have been a bugbear for a farming sector already under pressure from tighter access to credit.

The umbrella group didn’t go soft on the farming sector with its second policy urging the Government to take a tougher approach when setting pollution limits to avoid letting the biggest polluters lock-in their existing levels. 

The group supports a prohibition on conversions to highly-polluting land uses such as dairy farming and restricting certain activities such as winter grazing until councils have a plan for how to manage pollution within environmental limits. 

It also backed strong pollution limits as proposed by the Government and recommended by scientists. 

Beef + Lamb NZ said submission aligns with much of what its 3000 farmers have told it about improving freshwater quality. 

“The main concerns that have been raised by sheep and beef farmers are that the current proposals would reward the highest nitrogen leaching operations and penalise the farming systems with the lightest environmental touch,” chief executive Sam McIvor said. 

“We are pleased that environmental groups have also raised this as an area that needs to be changed and that they also agree that farm plans should not be used as regulatory tools.”

McIvor said locking in existing land uses for five years will flow into productivity, land value and farm succession beyond that time. 

“It’s grand-parenting of existing discharge rights irrespective of impact and we struggle to see how the Government can see it otherwise,” he said. 

“These proposals would prevent the small changes in farming systems on low-emitting farms that would be needed to offset the additional costs to comply with other parts of the proposed regulations.” 

The environmental groups’ final policy was for all sectors, regions and communities to contribute to improving water quality. They oppose an exemption proposed for the country’s six largest hydro-schemes. – BusinessDesk

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