Since late May, sector groups have been excluded from the formation of the policy other than a three-day opportunity to respond to the final draft.
“We had limited opportunity as an industry to provide feedback during the final rule writing process,” Beef + Lamb NZ (B+LNZ) chair Andrew Morrison said.
Until then, industry groups were working effectively with the Government and were getting concessions.
Morrison hoped for an industry-wide freshwater agreement similar to health and safety regulations and He Waka Eke Noa, the partnership on climate change.
The resulting policy has been roundly criticised by farmers as unworkable.
Morrison says farmer feedback identifies the main concerns as winter grazing rules on forage crops, low-slope maps and certified farm plans.
He hopes industry can work with the Government to amend rules on pugging, resowing dates and to improve the Ministry for the Environment’s (MfE) land slope map, including deleting the 10-degree slope criteria that determines winter crop paddock selection and stock exclusion.
“We’re not complaining about the why, we’re complaining about the how,” Morrison said.
There is also concern with the requirement to certify farm environment plans, but Morrison says there will be greater farmer buy in if these plans were written by farmers instead of certified contractors.
“We will continue to have discussions with the Government,” he said.
“Water quality is important to us and we want to do something about it.”
DairyNZ’s strategy and investment leader David Burger says the focus now turns to how regional councils will implement and administer the new regulations.
“We support the overall intent of the policy and support some detailed elements in the policy, but there are details we are struggling to get our heads around.”
Burger says there is a risk of perverse outcomes from farmers trying to meet the new regulations by wintering stock on lighter more vulnerable soils.
Ideally, DairyNZ would have preferred a policy that used farm environment plans.
“The best way we believe is to have farm environment plans, farm by farm,” he said.
“Farmers understand their issues and understand their local risks and how to manage those risks as opposed to a broad based policy.”
DairyNZ made a 200-page submission last October but Burger says the organisation was not part of any working or advisory group although it provided limited feedback.
“We did not sit around the table and craft up the rules with the Government,” he said.
“We have been like everybody else in getting our points across through the public process.”
Federated Farmers freshwater spokesperson Chris Allen believes the Government should withdraw the policy and work with successful environmental initiatives such as the industry-wide push to improve winter grazing practices in Southland.
That project involved the primary sector and Environment Southland designing and promoting best-practice.
The council attributed this work to the very high rates of farmer compliance this winter. The Otago Regional Council has also reported very high levels of compliance this winter.
“Farmers have picked it up and run with it, used exemplar farms and are doing things well,” Allen said.
“Look what happened in 12 months in Southland when a whole community and industry got in behind an outcome, we are all striving to achieve.”
“It’s about building on the stuff that you know works.”
The federation was shut out of the freshwater policy process from May last year when the Government accused it of leaking information, an accusation they dispute.
“In my humble opinion it was a convenient excuse to push the primary sector away and say, ‘we’ve got this and we’re going to do it our way’.”
This means the policies were not exposed to farmers’ lens.
“The solution is quite simple,” he said.
“Take the regulations and put them through a rural proofing lens. Put them in front of farmers who practice this stuff.”
Farmers Weekly has in the past week sought interviews on the freshwater policy with Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor, Environment Minister David Parker and officials from the MfE. All declined our request.