Friday, December 8, 2023

New water rules and big cash pot

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Farmers will face a cap on the amount of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser they can apply under new rules to improve freshwater quality announced by the Government today.
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But there won’t be a national bottom line for dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) at this stage though current levels will have to be maintained or improved.

And the Government has pledged a $700 million to create jobs in riparian and wetland planting and other initiatives to prevent farm runoff.

The fertiliser cap, which excludes vegetable growers, will be set at 190kg/ha a year and will be reviewed in 2023.

Dairy farmers will have to report annually to councils the quantity of nitrogen applied as synthetic fertiliser. Fertiliser companies will have to report sales to ensure the overall level of use is heading in the right direction.

Farm plans will be rolled out over time starting with higher-risk catchments and can be made mandatory and enforceable.

Where fences are required they must be a minimum of three metres from a waterway but permanent fences will not need to move to comply with riparian setback requirements though freshwater farm plans and regional rules might require a greater distance.

“Our environmental reputation is the thing that underpins our biggest export earners – tourism and agriculture. It’s time for us to invest in cleaning up our water in order to protect the economic value add it brings,” Environment Minister David Parker said.

“Many of our rivers, lakes and wetlands are under serious threat after years of decline and political inaction. 

“If we don’t start cleaning up our water now they will get worse, become more expensive to fix and we risk serious damage to our international, clean, green reputation.

“New Zealanders want to go down to their local swimming spot in summer and be able to put their head under without getting crook,” Parker said.

“Cleaning our waterways will secure the future of our meat, dairy and other primary exports and ensure they continue to earn higher prices overseas. It makes both economic and environmental sense. 

“We know the primary sector is facing challenges in the wake of covid-19 so the Government has reduced the cost and impact on them, including putting up $700m in funding to help with clean-up efforts but without compromising environmental benefits,” Parker said.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said the package will help increase the value of primary exports.

“Our high-value overseas consumers want greater assurances that the food and fibre they buy is produced in a sustainable way. Clean water and sustainable farming is entwined with the economic success of the sector, it isn’t one or the other.

“All farmers in NZ appreciate the value of high-quality water and many have done a huge amount of work to improve their practices over the last 20 years or more. Many are leading the way in restoring our waterways.

“Work undertaken to date estimates 80% of dairy farmers won’t be affected by the cap on synthetic nitrogen fertiliser.

“Cleaning up our waterways is also job rich and will provide much-needed stimulus to our rural economy.

“We intend to deliver this through already established and proven catchment management groups with initial funding announcements to be made soon,” O’Connor said.

Climate Change Minister and Green Party co-leader James Shaw said the reforms are the strongest protections a government has ever put in place for waterways.

The measures include:

– Using Te Mana o te Wai as the guiding principle, which prioritises the health of the waterway then the needs of people then commercial needs;

– Cleaning up rivers and lakes;

– Setting higher health standards at swimming spots;

– Requiring urban waterways to be cleaned up and new protections for urban streams;

– Putting controls on high-risk farm practices such as winter grazing and feed lots;

– Setting stricter controls on nitrogen pollution and new bottom lines on other measures of waterway health;

– Ensuring faster council planning;

– Requiring mandatory and enforceable farm environment plans;

– Delaying consideration of a DIN national bottom line (maximum level) for a year to allow time for a thorough review of its environmental and economic implications;

– Where fences are required they must be a minimum of three metres from a waterway but permanent fences will not need to move to comply with riparian setback requirements though freshwater farm plans and regional rules might require geater distance;

– Developing mandatory and enforceable freshwater farm plan regimes and phasing their introduction over a longer timeframe and;

– Removal of commercial vegetable growing from the interim intensification rules.

The legislative and regulatory changes are:

– Amendment of the Resource Management Act to deliver faster regional water plans;

– A National Environmental Standard to hold the line by controlling riskier practices;

– A National Policy Statement based on Te Mana o te Wai sets new bottom lines for swimmability and water health measures;

– Stock exclusion regulations and water take measurement and;

– Mandatory and enforceable farm plans.

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