Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Feds flags freshwater deadline pressures

Neal Wallace
The delayed policy, part of the Essential Freshwater reforms, will start with pilot programmes this August.
Federated Farmers board member Colin Hurst says at $6000 a Freshwater Farm Plan, it is a costly exercise whose timetable is too tight.
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A further 24,000 farms and orchards will need to have certified Freshwater Farm Plans in place within three years, says Federated Farmers.

The delayed policy, part of the Essential Freshwater reforms, will start with pilot programmes in Southland and Waikato this August. These plans will have to be certified within 18 months.

Legislation to enact Freshwater Farm Plans (FWFPs) is still to be introduced but by August 2026 they will be required for farmers with 20ha or more in arable or pastoral use, 5ha or more horticulture or 20ha or more in combined use.

These plans are a way to manage the impact of intensive winter grazing but delays in the legislation’s release means farmers have instead had to get resource consent.

Federated Farmers board member Colin Hurst said farmers are not ready. At $6000 a plan they are costly, he said, and time frames are tight given the number needing a FWFP.

“Around 10,000 farmers have existing farm environment plans that may be able to be quickly adjusted to the new system, but this leaves 24,000, largely smaller sheep, beef and deer farms, that will need to fork out around $6000 plus for the new plans,” Hurst said in a statement.

He questioned how 24,000 FWFPs can be prepared from scratch in just 36 months.

“There simply isn’t the workforce out there to do this. I worry farmers are yet again being set up to fail,” Hurst said.

He said a golden opportunity has been missed where plans could replace council requirements for a resource consent to farm.

Hurst sees FWFPs as a one-size fits all and, despite requiring extensive information, he is concerned plans will become little more than a box-ticking exercise designed to pass an audit.

He said it is “hard for farmers to get excited about possibilities for the environment and their farms when they feel they are just trying to pass a test”.

A Ministry for the Environment spokesperson said FWFPs are expected to be gazetted within a month and provide a practical way for farmers and growers to identify, manage and reduce their impact on freshwater.

“Freshwater farm plans will help protect and restore New Zealand’s freshwater by assessing each farm’s potential impact on freshwater and developing a tailored set of actions to address these, in light of the catchment in which each farm sits.”

Most farmers and growers will eventually require a FWFP that identifies risks from farming activities, looks for existing adverse effects, considers how the risks and effects are being managed and what more needs to be done. 

An action plan will then be needed; it becomes part of the FWFP, which will be independently certified as fit-for-purpose.

It will initially be audited a year later to check the actions are being followed through on. 

Each plan will link to the local catchment context and align with regional policies, rules or limits that have been developed in collaboration with the community.

The spokesperson said FWFPs will fit within existing integrated farm planning.

“We are also working with industry to support aligning their existing industry farm environment plans and assurance programmes with the freshwater farm plan system.”

Ministry officials have worked with industry to test the functionality of FWFPs,  which includes conducting on-farm tests, and an exposure draft of the regulations has been provided to stakeholders and industry to ensure the regulations will be fit for purpose.

“We have also taken time to work with the regional sector to ensure that councils are ready to implement the regulations, and that we have a workforce in place to deliver freshwater farm plans well.”

The roll-out of regulations will be phased to give time for the industry and councils to have trained certifiers in place. 

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