A raft of new government regulations have proven costly and been administratively demanding but failed to provide demonstrable benefits to farmers or communities, a new report concludes.
The BakerAg report commissioned by Beef + Lamb NZ (BLNZ) says that in the past six years central and locals governments have introduced more than 20 new regulations, laws and reforms primarily in the areas of climate change, freshwater, biodiversity, highly productive land with regional and district interpretation in implementation.
The report says that most policies have failed to give farmers a clear illustration of benefit.
“In many cases policies have not created the outcomes the government intended – and in some cases have even created perverse outcomes,” it says.
The study looked at four separate sheep and beef farms with differing geographic locations, production systems and regional council administrations.
Annual consenting costs across the four farms were as high as $30,000, while one farm faced one-off resource consent costs of $220,000.
All four farms faced $15,000 one-off direct costs for Freshwater Farm Plans as well as annual costs for updating and auditing.
While excluding stock from waterways affects fewer farms, the report found costs were significant, primarily fencing for stock exclusion.
One case study farm faced potential costs of more than $1.2 million.
Another farm faced one-off direct costs from new policy of $75,000 and annual direct costs of around $88,000, when the BLNZ Sheep and Beef Farm Survey estimates average farm profit before tax for that region or type for 2022/23 of $174,800.
“And this impact is despite the farm [being] engaged and proactive in environmental stewardship,” says the report.
BLNZ chief executive Sam McIvor said the report reinforces calls for the next government to pause new rules and review current or proposed rules to ensure they’re fit for purpose.
BLNZ chair Kate Acland said farmers acknowledge investment in environmental improvements is needed, but it must be targeted at proven actions with measurable impacts.
“Instead, we have a range of one-size-fits all rules that are simply imposing significant cost without clear benefits,” she said.
New regulations were found to be very stringent and time consuming and require significant capital investment upgrading infrastructure and implementing new technology.
Often benefits are uncertain or undermined by other policies.
Complying with water quality regulations, for example, involves fencing and staff time moving stock that may not achieve the environmental objectives the rules tried to achieve.
“These financial obligations strain the resources of farmers, particularly smaller operations with limited budgets, and hinder their overall profitability,” the report says.
The pace and volume of new policies have created uncertainty and anxiety, with one farmer commenting that more sleep is lost over government policies than over farming.
Researchers said that farmers do not reject the objectives of the policies, and would be supportive if the government had taken the time to ensure they were practical and workable and considered in relation to other policies.