Beef + Lamb NZ (B+LNZ) and DairyNZ have this week talked farmers through the detail of the Government’s latest freshwater policies as best they can, despite there being gaps in the detail.
They all urge farmers to study the new rules with the National Environmental Standard (NES), which cover stock exclusion, land use change and winter grazing, becoming law on September 3.
The logistical scale for regional councils was laid out by Environment Southland’s land and water services manager Fiona Young, who estimated 2000 farmers in the region will have their activities captured by the NES.
Farm environment plans will help farmers negotiate the new rules, but a lack of people with expertise to compile those plans will delay their introduction.
“They will be there in the future but they are not available now as a number of details are still to be finalised such as certifiers,” DairyNZ senior policy analyst Charlotte Wright said.
She told Otago and Southland dairy farmers the changes include a formula to determine the maximum area that can be sown in winter forage, rules on the slope of paddocks for intensive wintering, permitted pugging and the use of synthetic nitrogen.
It is estimated 300 Southland dairy farmers exceed the new annual 190kg/ha limit of applied synthetic nitrogen.
All dairy farmers will be required to report their use of synthetic nitrogen to regional councils each year.
“That is going to be a problem for farmers and councils both in determining the collection and processes,” she said.
There are also new rules on intensification and the construction and effluent collection of stock handling areas, feedlots, wintering, stand-off and loafing pads.
B+LNZ’s environment manager Corina Jordan told farmers a contentious issue is the questionable accuracy of an online map created by the Ministry for the Environment(MfE).
It is designed to show farmers if their land is greater than 10 degrees and provide guidance if they need to comply with rules excluding stock from waterways and if they need resource consent to sow winter forage crops.
The Government says it is looking to improve the map.
“They are inaccurate at farm or paddock scale so they capture a whole lot of land that is greater than a 10-degree slope. It is a very blunt instrument,” Jordan said.
“It is also hard to determine what is a waterway and whether that meets these regulations.
Stock exclusion regulations apply to waterways one metre or wider but it is unclear whether the one-metre width applies to anywhere on a farm or land parcel or whether regional councils will be able to take a bespoke approach.
“I suppose that is where the real conversations will be, how much flexibility regional councils will have to make this workable because at this stage the maps really aren’t,” she said.
The maps are written into legislation and will require Parliament to make any changes.
Adhering to rules preventing pugging of no more than 20cm or covering 50% of a paddock are a concern, although the Government this week eased regulations for pugging in gateways and around fixed water troughs.
“The real issue for farmers is they have to be able to guess if they can meet that standard when they start to graze their animals,” Jordan said.
“They are likely to need resource consent which regional councils will struggle to meet.”
While sheep are not required to be excluded from waterways, Jordan says they must comply with winter crop grazing rules and appear to have been inadvertently caught up in rule on stock holding areas.
The rules are designed to contain effluent runoff from feedlots and stock holding areas and consent must be sought if it cannot be contained.
Jordan says this rule applies to animals older than four months and weighing over 120kg, so appears to include stock handling yards.
She urges farmers to try and understand these new rules.
“It’s appropriate everybody understands what these new rules are,” she pointed out.
“Do not assume you will be exempt from them because they have got quite a low bar, so all farmers and all lifestyle block owners should take a good look and understand what they mean for them.”