Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Sheep water ban stuns farmers

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Farmers have been broadsided by a rule in a proposed regional council plan that will cost some of them $1 million each.
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Greater Wellington Regional Council’s proposed Natural Resources Plan includes sheep among stock to be excluded from waterways throughout the region, including hill country, an rule neither farmers nor the council saw coming.

Federated Farmers Wairarapa president William Beetham said the rule was not raised during the plan’s hearings process.

But the proposal is unworkable.

“Farmers are unanimous. They can’t believe it,” he said.

Former Wairarapa feds president Jamie Falloon, who farms Wairarapa hill country and has been involved in the plan’s progress for seven years, said the costs of the rule change are horrific.

To comply, farmers will need to fence waterways with sheep-proof fences.

Falloon said that will cost him about $1m for his 600ha that includes 24km of streams, a total of 48km taking in each side, along with putting in culverts, bridges and other earthworks.

It will also reduce the size of many of his paddocks, rendering them effectively useless.

He cannot understand the rationale because sheep do minimal damage to waterways and don’t like going anywhere near them.

“Given the cost you’ve got to ask what the value and the benefit is. There’s bugger all impact on water quality.”

Falloon’s numbers are backed up by Baker Ag consultant who say it will cost more than $1m for an average hill country property.

Four meetings have been held in the past couple of weeks to inform farmers of the plan’s content and drum up financial support to pay for an Environment Court appeal.

Now Beetham says the human cost, the tax on farmers’ emotions, is just as worrying as the financial one.

There is also the potential for the rule to set a precedent and be picked up by other councils.

Although the Government’s recently released freshwater discussion document does not include sheep, its proposals are minimum requirements and individual councils can make tougher rules.

Wairarapa’s only regional councillor Adrienne Staples said she and council officials were very surprised to see sheep included because it was never in the original proposal.

Officials originally wondered if an error had been made but she now understands two groups asked for the exclusion and the three independent commissioners hearing submissions included the request in their proposed plan.

The council cannot now make any changes because the Resource Management Act says commissioners’ plans can by changed only by the Environment Court though Staples hopes it can be sorted out at the mediation stage.

There are two other significant changes to the original plan, she said.

The council proposed banning significant pugging but significant has been removed so it now reads no pugging while another rule that covers keeping stock out of wetlands initially listed particular wetland. The schedule has been removed so the rule will cover all wetlands.

Staples said there is serious farmer concern about the changes far-reaching consequences, especially on hill country.

“Farmers would just like to get it sorted. They are sick of being painted as enemies of the country.”

She said farmers recognise they have to embrace change but it’s important not to bankrupt the country in the process.

“Vast tracts of NZ will become uneconomic to farm.”

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