Thursday, April 25, 2024

Pool of 300 certifiers to be trained up for freshwater plan rollout  

Neal Wallace
System tested on 100 farms to avoid repeat of winter grazing errors.
Freshwater Farm Plans must identify risks to waterways from stock, soil erosion and effluent systems, among other things.
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Three hundred certifiers will be needed at the peak of the rollout of freshwater farm plans when this occurs over the next four years.

Plans will be phased in between August this year and late 2025, with each farmer having 18 months to finalise them.

Virginia Loughnan, the Ministry for the Environment’s agriculture, policy implementation and delivery manager, said after Southland and Waikato –  the first regions required to have plans – implementation will then shift to farms in neighbouring regions to best utilise the pool of certifiers.

Certifiers must either have a suitable qualification or three years’ experience related to that competency.

They are required to undergo mandatory training to ensure they have an understanding of the role, the regulatory system and the requirements of the essential freshwater legislation.

Plans that will need to be re-certified every five years.

The programme will be managed by AsureQuality but certifiers will function as independent contractors with delegated authority from the respective regional councils.

Plans will be audited by professionals, some of whom already work in the sector auditing supplier plans for processors.

A plan is 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.

Loughnan said the 20ha minimum threshold reflects the potential risk to water receiving areas.

Farm plans are a key element of the essential freshwater package and Loughnan is confident they will be fit for purpose.

The ministry learnt from errors in the rollout of intensive winter grazing rules and tested the proposal’s details on more than 100 farms, covering multiple farm systems, geography and ownership structures.

They also worked with providers who require plans from their suppliers.  

“We’re pretty confident given the intentional way we built this from the ground up and learnt from other farm-facing plans,” Loughnan said.

“The whole point of this is the industry knows the farm and the environment.

“What is the risk to the environment and what is the risk to freshwater and how do they manage that risk?

“How they manage that is up to each individual.”

Plans need to identify risks to freshwater systems alongside actions on each property using maps to describe land units, inherent vulnerabilities and risks posed from farm activities.

They must also identify, along with timeframes, existing and new actions to avoid and remedy, and how they plan to mitigate risks and adverse effects on freshwater bodies.

These must be considered on a catchment-wide context.

Maps need to 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 that exclude 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.

Farmers have said they are concerned that individual plans will be held by regional councils and may be subject to release following an application under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act.

Loughnan said farmers will retain ownership of their plans with basic information required for compliance lodged with councils – such as action plans, dates and ownership details.

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