Friday, December 1, 2023

Plans give farmers certainty

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Synlait founder John Penno has urged Waikato farmers to take the time to submit on water quality standards and welcome the certainty setting those standards is going to bring to New Zealand agriculture.
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Penno briefly addressed a full house of 550 at the Mystery Creek meeting on proposed water quality standards, advising the largely farmer audience not to stonewall the proposals or try to kick them down the road.

“There are catchments that are going backwards, not to say there has not been good work done. 

“But some are being let down by neighbours not doing all they should and in some catchments farms have been able to convert long past when they should have.”

Environment Ministry officials addressed an audience already well familiar with Waikato Regional Council’s Healthy Rivers Plan, on which some of the Government’s national proposals have been based.

The proposed 5m set-back on streams and waterways grated most with an audience already well down the riparian path in fencing and waterway protection.

Ministry freshwater project leader Brian Smith acknowledged farmers’ concerns over the set-back but defended the sound sediment control science behind it.

“However, the minister (Environment Minister David Parker) will absolutely be open to submissions on this,” he said.

Cambridge farmer and Maungatautari Ecological Reserve founder Bill Garland said when it comes to set-backs the devil is in the detail, given how a practical distance can vary along a wandering waterway’s length.

“And this is only one thing we face. We have a biodiversity policy coming, Mycoplasma bovis, IRD demands. As a community we are under the pump.” 

Smith said the Government appreciates the demands being put on farmers and is looking at ways to help manage the load.

“(Agriculture) Minister (Damien) O’Connor is talking about an integrated plan, entering information one time only.”

He urged farmers who feel strongly about the set-back in particular to submit on it, appreciating the 5m is an average, not an absolute.

Officials were challenged on how much economic analysis has been done on the proposals’ impacts, particularly under the Resource Management Act requiring due consideration to community, economy and environment impacts of any policies.

Smith pointed to a 400-page document evaluating sediment policy but acknowledged more needs to be done on the lowered nitrate levels.

“That came in quite late so we are still analysing that.”

Penno made it plain some in the advisory group are at odds with Government moves to make farm environment plans mandatory.

“Our recommendation was while FEPs were powerful, they should be left in the hands of industry and farmers. 

“Not all in the group were of this mind but FEPs could not be a Wellington tool. That is worth thinking about in submissions.”

Since the release of Waikato’s Healthy Rivers plan tension has existed between farmer groups over the plan’s grand-parenting of nitrogen limits, which tends to give higher loss dairy units more nutrient headroom than their drystock neighbours.

Allocation decisions at a national level have not yet been set.

Waikato farmer Graeme Gleeson, a Healthy Rivers stakeholder group member, said any national nutrient allocation should ensure existing land use is not coupled to allowable nutrient losses, something akin to picking winners.

“As we think about NZ Inc we are better able to grapple with these as team ag to deal with them. 

“We have to ensure these rules do not cripple any one of us to allow one part to exist.”

While previous meetings raised concerns over dissolved nitrate levels being reduced to one part per million, advisory board member Alison Dewes said most Waikato water catchments are already at or below that level.

“What we want to emphasise is that these rules are not the end of the world. 

“I have worked with many in the room here to help reduce nitrate levels. While there remain sub-catchments that still have work to do it is not impossible. Things like winter grazing, it can be modified.”

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