Thursday, December 7, 2023

Southland mud solution found

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Farming leaders believe they have found a solution to avoid a repeat of last year’s winter grazing controversy in Southland.
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This season Southland farmers face a double whammy of unprecedented conditions following February’s floods and a backlog at freezing works because of covid-19. 

As a result some farms are carrying more stock into winter than their consent or the permitted activity criteria allow.

The solution entails a farmer simply writing to Environment Southland informing it of the changes this winter and the council will allow them as a deemed permitted activity. Federated Farmers Southland vice-president Bernadette Hunt said it is great a solution has been found. The federation had led the process and brought on board Environment Southland, DairyNZ and Beef + Lamb. 

“This is a simple process that enables farmers to be compliant with regulation despite the unpredictable situation they are facing this season. This is a great example of strong and effective collaboration by agencies to provide the best possible solutions for farmers.”

Initially it was thought there would be a significant number of farmers using the process but it is likely that has reduced because the processing backlog has improved.

A special group has been set up to monitor farmer performance. If people are concerned about a practice they can contact the group, which will decide whether it is sufficiently serious for the farmer to be spoken to. 

“There’s an industry group for each region and they will nominate a person to speak to the farmer. Often it’s an education thing. We try to get them to put better practices in place and get ahead of the issue. 

“If the farmer refuses to engage the second step is we work with either the council or the Ministry for Primary Industries, depending whether it’s an environmental or animal welfare problem,” Hunt said.

She imagines green groups concerned about the problem last year will be very happy with the process thouogh the solution was not created for them but for farmers.

Environmentalist Angus Robson, who was the public face of last year’s protests, said it is unlikely the solution will improve environmental outcomes but he is giving farmers a chance to demonstrate their good intent.

“There are people who really try but there is a group of laggards who don’t give a stuff. They’re the sort who are hard to reach because they don’t join Federated Farmers,” Robson said.

Robson estimated that about 80% of Southland farms were keeping cattle miserable and wet. Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor intervened by setting up a task force.

DairyNZ strategic investment leader Dr David Burger said a new wintering consent or variation usually takes up to six months to apply for and receive. Now applications for deemed permitted activity notices will be processed within five working days and issued for this winter and end on September 30.

Farmers can complete and submit the covid-19 Pandemic Farming Questionnaire on the Environment Southland website. 

“This process will help farmers keep their primary focus on looking after their farms and the environment so they can ensure the best care for their cows, land and water, particularly as we head into winter and then calving.”

Environment Southland acting consents manager Aurora Grant said the council realises the exceptional circumstances the Southland farming community faces might lead to technical temporary or marginal non-compliance with the rules. 

She said deemed permitted activity notices do not negate the need for farmers to continue to implement good management practices. They will provide relief for those who need to hold over stock till they are able to get them off farms.

Farmers planning to carry more stock or use a greater area of winter grazing should get in touch with the Environment Southland consents team on 0800 76 88 45 or email

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