Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Waikato proposes phase-in of Farm Environmental Plans

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Council working to align local and central govt rollout for pioneering region.
Aiming for as little duplication as possible, the Waikato Regional Council is hoping for a phased rollout of the Freshwater Plans in the region, and close co-operation with central government.
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The Waikato Regional Council favours a phased rollout of Farm Environmental Plans for the region’s 9200 farmers. The plans are required to meet both local and central government legislation aimed at improving freshwater quality.

The region, along with Southland, will be the first to be required to have Farm Environmental Plans (FEPs) under the government’s Essential Freshwater regulations and the council’s Plan Change 1 (PC1).

The council’s resource use director, Brent Sinclair, told councillors at an Environmental Performance Committee meeting that the council wants to make sure the two plans are as closely aligned as possible with the goal of having a single document that meets both PC1 and central government regulations.

He said unofficially, the “current word on the street” is that the Ministry for the Environment will gazette the FEPs in early June and they will be activated in Waikato by the council in August.

“We are proceeding with our plan on that basis,” he said.

Waikato Regional Council primary industries engagement manager Tracy Nelson said they are also working extremely close with dairy companies around how the two plans will be incorporated into the FEPs they have assisted farmers in putting together.

These landowners will have to submit their plans within 12 months of the regulations becoming operative. 

Nelson said they have proposed to the MfE to have a phased rollout of these FEPs because of the sheer volume that will need to be submitted.

This rollout would see FEPs phased in across the region over a three-and-a-half-year period.

“We want our landowners to succeed while also making it as easy as possible for them, while also balancing the desired environmental outcomes that the community wants,” Nelson said.

The MfE has yet to respond to the proposal.

The FEPs will also provide a management option for those farmers who use intensive winter grazing, as an alternative to having to seek a resource consent.

Phasing it in will also allow time for support services, including auditors and certifiers, to help farmers meet the regulations.

The areas in the region that are covered by PC1 will be rolled out first to help align central and local government freshwater plans, starting with the 1800 farms in Waipa on July 1 of this year. Second off the bat are the 1800 farms in middle and upper Waikato and the 300 farms in west coast south regions, starting January 1 next year.

The 1800 farms in Lower Waikato are next, on July 1 2024, the 2200 farms in Hauraki start on January 1 2025 and the 1150 combined farms in Taupō, west coast north and Coromandel are last, with their turn-on dates starting in July 2025.

The council is developing FEP engagement strategy to support farmers with more details of that strategy released after the MfE has gazetted the FEP regulations.

That strategy requires the region to develop FEP certifier and auditor training. 

Both PC1 and the MfE require digital platforms for plans to be submitted on and Sinclair said they are working closely with the government to prevent duplication and save ratepayers money.

If there is a timing gap between the two platforms, a potential solution is to create a bridging system that meets the needs of PC1 until such time as this national database is up and running, he said.

“You can be sure that we are very actively trying to make sure that things are aligned.”

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