The government remains unmoved over calls to halt its controversial intensive winter grazing rules until Freshwater Farm Plans are fully in place.
Federated Farmers and the National Party are both demanding a rethink on the regulations after Environment Southland recently issued five winter grazing abatement notices to farmers, preventing them grazing parts of their properties.
Federated Farmers Southland winter grazing spokesperson Jason Herrick said the farmers issued notices were “beside themselves, so their mental health has taken a bit of a hit”.
However, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said there are no plans to stop the regulations as intensive winter grazing can seriously affect water quality, animal welfare and “our international reputation”.
Environment Southland general manager integrated catchment integration Paul Hulse confirmed the abatement notices were issued after an aerial inspection in June identified 21 potential sites of interest. Another farmer was given a $300 infringement notice for failing to follow council advice.
An abatement notice requires farmers to move stock off the identified paddock until they become compliant, through either the deemed permitted activity or consent process. Farmers intensive grazing land on a slope of more than 10 degrees are required to meet criteria, or obtain land use consent or permitted activity authorisation.
Intensive winter grazing was initially to be addressed through the government’s Freshwater Farm Plans (FFPs), an alternative to resource consents for non-compliant winter grazers. However, the plans were delayed and will be phased in from August 1. Southland and Waikato are the first areas to implement the plans, with farmers being given 18 months from the start date to lodge their plans.
“That was the pathway that was promised through the Winter Grazing Task Force, from the Ministry for the Environment and David Parker.
“We feel he is using our local regional council to do his dirty work. Putting the rules in place from May 1 and their failure to deliver on what was promised is the reason for this.”
National’s agriculture spokesperson, Todd McClay, said farmers have been caught in a “bureaucratic nightmare” between central and local government.
He said the government needs to “hit pause” on winter grazing regulations until FFPs are sorted.
Environment Minister David Parker said while six farmers have been penalised for winter grazing practices, “around 3000 others in the region have done the right thing and gained consents if required”.
“Despite National’s attempt to make political capital out of this, the introduction of Freshwater Farm Plans will make no effective difference to the fact that farmers have to manage the impacts of intensive winter grazing.”
Parker said the introduction of farm plans was delayed a year at the request of Federated Farmers.
“The plans must show that the impacts of intensive winter grazing are no worse than what is allowed for by the default conditions in the national standards – and individual councils may apply more stringent rules
“It is up to councils to decided what they do with the laggards. I don’t interfere with that, and neither should Todd McClay.”
O’Connor said the government has worked closely with the sector, especially in Southland, on getting intensive winter grazing regulations right.
“We deferred the regulations until November 2022 and this provided farmers with certainty and time for them to adjust their practices, or obtain resource consent if necessary, prior to winter 2023.”
Herrick, a dairy farmer, accepted the regional council has a job to do but said “this law should never have been put in place”.
“All this has effectively done is ruin any relationship the council had with farmers. Trust is the biggest thing for us. We want farmers to be able to trust the regional council.”
The notices had arrived unannounced and there was no prior warning or discussion from council.
“They [the council] did claim they tried to get in contact with the farmers. Well, they didn’t try hard enough.”
Hulse said Environment Southland is continuing to provide advice and support, while monitoring breaches of winter grazing rules.
“Where farmers have concerns about their ability to comply with an abatement notice, they should contact us and we can work through their options.
“Before the issuing of the abatement notices, we endeavoured to contact the farmers to discuss their situation and have since spoken to all of them. In those calls we found people to be co-operative and genuinely interested in working to become compliant.”
This story has been updated to reflect that Jason Herrick is the Southland spokesperson on winter grazing.