Thursday, April 25, 2024

New farm plans accord with council rules

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Freshwater Farm Plans no great leap for Waikato.
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New national regulations for Freshwater Farm Plans required by Waikato farmers align well with what is already required by local governments.

The new farm plan requirements, released this month by the government, differ subtly from the Waikato Regional Council’s Plan Change 1. 

PC1 is the Waikato Regional Council’s freshwater plan designed to improve the water quality of the Waikato and Waipa rivers.

Waikato Regional Council director of resource use Brent Sinclair said the two sets of rules for freshwater management contain more similarities than differences.

He said the council has tried to keep the government informed of what PCI entails, despite it being challenged in the Environment Court.

“We have been making sure that the ministry is very clear about what the state of PC1 is right now so they can, when they do the regulations, make it as aligned as possible.”

With the plan change being in front of the courts, the new government regulations can be included in the court process when it decides that outcome, he said.

Waikato and Southland are the first regions in New Zealand to have farm plans. Farmers there have 18 months from August 1 to submit their plans for certification.

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.

Both local and national regulations were aligned around water quality goals and risk management and timeframes for on-farm action, Sinclair said.

Of the estimated 9200 farms in Waikato, he estimated there are somewhere close to 1000 that have yet to start creating a farm plan. 

Sinclair said farmers only have to submit a plan to be certified within that 18 month period.

“They have done their bit. The certifier then does their bit and adds it to a national database.”

That database was been created to store digital versions of the plans. It was being developed jointly with central government and will be collectively managed by local government.

Dairy and meat companies and organisations have been very proactive in getting their farmers organised with a plan and these will be amended by these companies when these plans are reviewed to reflect the new regulations.

Fonterra director of on-farm excellence Mike Hide said at first glance, the government’s farm plans broadly aligned with its Tiaki programme of equipping its farmer-suppliers with their own plans and will not require any dramatic changes.

Around 81% of its farmers have these plans.

“We’ll be looking to change our approach so that any new farm plans that we do will meet those freshwater farm plan provisions and, over time, going back and revisiting those plans we have already done so we are sure they line up.”

Hide said they are still working through the details to establish what will need to be amended among the existing plans. Some of these amendments will be simple while others might involve discussions with the farmer during routine updates.

“We have already started the process of going back to those plans that are a few years old and updating them as part of the process to keep those things fresh and alive.”

It is at this stage that any necessary update will take place to meet the new regulations. An example of one new amendment is requiring more details around regions and catchments, he said.

“It’s just little things to make sure that every one of those plans meets the specific requirements and regulations. Not a dramatic shift from what we have been doing, but it is a more prescribed method than what we have previously done.”

He is also hoping the government will be pragmatic in its approach to the 18-month rollout of the plans. The co-operative has been in regular conversations with the Waikato Regional Council around PC1, ensuring the plans all align.

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