Thursday, November 30, 2023

Water rules ‘unworkable’

Neal Wallace
Environment Southland may ask the Government to relax new strict rules controlling the winter grazing of livestock which is widely considered as unworkable in the cooler southern region.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Southland Federated Farmers president Geoffrey Young has upped the pressure on the Government, advising members not to seek resource consent if they are unable to meet the new grazing regulations.

Southern farmers are angered at the requirement to resow winter crop paddocks by November 1, a month later than the rest of NZ, the extent of pugging permitted on paddocks and limits on winter grazing paddocks with a mean slope exceeding 10 degrees.

These provisions are included in the suite of essential freshwater measures regulations released in May.

Environment Southland chair Nicol Horrell has some sympathy and is seeking to defuse tension by arranging a meeting with farmers, the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) to discuss concerns. 

He says Young’s boycott call reflects frustration with the rigidity and impracticality of the new regulations for southern farmers.

“It will be helpful to get everyone in a room and work through the issues which may require having to go to Wellington to talk to ministers,” Horrell said.

“We all want improved water quality, but we do need a bit of flexibility in the southern South Island.

“This is too prescriptive. We are not able to add a regional favour.”

Young welcomed the council initiative but stood by his boycott call.

“Essentially, we are advising farmers to refrain from applying for resource consent for wintering,” he said.

“It is unworkable, a waste of money and a waste of resources.

“The regional council doesn’t have the resources to process the 2000 to 3000 consents required in Southland because everyone who winters on crop will breach at least one of those three rules.”

He wants winter grazing conditions to be included in farm environment plans rather than requiring resource consent.

“I believe if Southland farmers have to apply for resource consent for winter grazing it could cost $6-$8 million and that is money not being spent on their farms or the environment,” Young said.

“It should be about outcomes not regulations.”

Young says the policy shows the Government did not consider farmer submissions during consultation as they do not reflect the later growing season in the south, wet ground conditions in spring which can delay the resowing of cropped paddocks, and the consequences on stock numbers of the slope provisions.

He notes Environment Southland has commended farmers for their winter grazing practices this year.

Environment Minister David Parker says Young’s boycott call is irresponsible.

“No one is above the law,” he said.

“The intensive winter grazing regulations reflect very closely the consultation document from September 2019.

“The regulated slope, size and pugging thresholds were options outlined in the consultation document.”

He says the regulations are to ensure intensive winter grazing does not pollute rivers and estuaries.

“The Government is determined to improve and protect our waterways. Mr Young in Southland should play his part,” he said.

Federated Farmers president Andrew Hoggard shared the concerns of southern farmers saying blanket regulations did not account for regional differences.

“If it’s stupid law and ain’t going to work, then we should keep saying it is stupid law and ain’t going to work,” Hoggard said.

Green Party MP Eugenie Sage accused farmers on social media of attacking law they had been consulted on, but Hoggard says farmers were within their rights to criticise law if it is unworkable.

Otago Regional Council chair Andrew Noone has heard similar complaints from Otago farmers and his council is looking to find a solution.

Farmers have told him low slope maps provided by MfE to assist management of intensive grazing and stock exclusion, contain major anomalies.

Otago Federated Farmers president Simon Davies says he understood Young’s approach and frustration and says the Government’s freshwater goals could have been achieved without such heavy-handed restrictions.

“I don’t agree with the Government’s standards,” he said.

“They are impractical and I question if they will achieve the results they are wanting.”

He is working with the ORC to find practical and simple solutions.

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