Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Feds has queries as Freshwater Farm Plans kick off

Neal Wallace
First plans to be rolled out in Southland and Waikato in August.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

With Gerald Piddock

The launch of the long-awaited Freshwater Farm Plan system creates numerous questions, a Southland farmer says.

The first tranche of plans will be rolled out in Southland and Waikato from August 1, but Southland Federated Farmers freshwater spokesperson Jason Herrick said the system generates multiple questions.

He asked if there are sufficient certifiers or auditors to implement and administer freshwater farm plans.

He also believes plans should be held by farmers and made available to councils on request.

If they are held by regional councils, he fears they could be subject to release under an application through the Official Information Act, potentially providing ammunition for environmentalists.

Freshwater Farm Plans will be required for any farming operation with 20ha or more in arable or pastoral use, 5ha or more in horticultural use or any combination equalling more than 20ha.

The initial rollout requires farmers in selected catchments in Southland and Waikato to develop plans within 18 months from August1 and submit them for certification.

Plans for the remaining catchments in those provinces will be phased in every six months, with plans for remaining regions to be outlined before the end of the year.

Plans must identify risks and actions on a property using maps to describe each land unit, its inherent vulnerabilities and risks from farm activities.

They must also identify, along with a timeframe, existing and new actions to avoid, remedy and mitigate risks and adverse effects on freshwater bodies.

These must be considered on a catchment-wide context.

The maps must show features such as land use, water bodies, soil type, landforms, areas used for intensive winter grazing, critical source areas and drainage systems.

They must also identify fences excluding stock from waterways, riparian and tree planting, soil erosion controls, effluent systems, water-take bores, crossings and access routes, stock-related infrastructure, point source discharges and accommodation.

Herrick said estimates on the cost to prepare plans range from $6500 to $25,000 for a large property.

He said that will prove an impost for lifestyle block owners who meet the criteria and must provide a plan.

“It’s a whole lot more work created for what gain?” he asked.

How often plans will need auditing will depend on the type of operation and the risk it poses to the environment.

He did not know how much an audit would cost.

In a statement, Waikato Regional Council chair Pamela Storey said staff are working through what the regulations will mean for farmers and growers in the region.

 At first glance, the regulations appear to take into account much of the regional sector feedback, she said.

“It’s pleasing the Ministry for the Environment has responded to the regional sector’s call to enable a phased approach across a region, and that farmers will have 18 months to submit a plan once the regulations are ‘turned on’ in their area,” she said.

Storey said staff had been working in anticipation of the gazettal of the regulations to prepare as best they can to support farmers transition to this new system.

“Our region has been divided into eight sub-regions, prioritising Waikato and Waipā river catchments where farmers and growers have had greater exposure to the concept of farm planning than those outside of this area.”

In many cases, farmers and growers have started making farm plans and are already supported by sector-industry representatives.

These plans are expected to become an important tool for farmers and growers to manage all on-farm freshwater regulatory requirements.

“Our region isn’t starting from zero with farm planning and the new system will build on the great work farmers and growers have already been doing.

“There will be no one-size-fits-all for plans. Instead, on-farm actions will be tailored to the individual farming or growing enterprise and the farm’s unique surrounding environment.”

Storey said there will be staff on hand at the council’s site at Fieldays to answer any questions farmers may have regarding their farm plans.

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