Sunday, December 3, 2023

Water vagueness flummoxes farmers

Neal Wallace
The exclusion of farming groups from the final deliberations on the Government’s freshwater policy has created anomalies that are the genesis of much of farmer concern and cynicism.
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Federated Farmers South Island policy manager Kim Reilly told a meeting of about 80 rural professionals and farmers in Dunedin discussing the freshwater plan that farming organisations were excluded from the final deliberation and given access only two and half hours before the report’s public release.

Groups such as hers have since been trying to amend unworkable or illogical suggestions and recommendations.

But the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) has told the federation the proposed 5m waterway livestock exclusion fencing rule was a popular distance among submitters to previous policies.

However, the plan ignores the practicality of fencing off wetlands with one South Island high-country farmer facing the prospect of fencing off 1300 lightly grazed wetlands.

The federation also asked MfE where the proposed winter grazing pugging depth regulations came from and was told from an Australian study.

MfE has told the federation a time line is expected to be released after next year’s general election for councils to address urban water issues.

Reilly says there is anger from those in hydroelectric scheme catchments that generators but not farmers are exempt from sediment and flow regulations.

Criticism by politicians that the rural response to the plan is too negative ignores the document’s own statements.

Reilly noted it says the proposed changes will challenge farmer wellbeing and lead to greater anxiety, create greater compliance and council regulations and higher rates.

A more sensible approach for the Government would be to work with the existing freshwater national policy statement, encourage greater collaboration and more catchment groups and target the most polluted waterways.

The final document requires only Cabinet approval and will not face the scrutiny of select committee hearings so Reilly urges farmers and rural professionals to make submissions before the October 31 deadline.

NZ First agriculture spokesman Mark Patterson said, despite claims to the contrary, the proposal is a discussion document and submissions can influence change.

He urged the rural community to create a team ag approach and unite in advocating for the changes it wants.

Otago dairy farmer Ad Bekkers fears tougher winter grazing and pugging rules could mean an end to dairy’s all-grass farming advantage.

Dairy farmers in Europe and North America are moving from housed systems to all-grass farming but new freshwater rules here will require stock to be off wet paddocks and could mean the greater use of wintering sheds.

Farmers will solve water issues given time and information.

“Give us science and we will improve.

“We’ve done it before and we will do it again if you give us time.”

North Otago dairy farmer Lyndon Strang says the absence of information and economic modelling makes it impossible to quantify the impact of the proposed changes on individual farms let alone the wider industry.

“That is why we argue that lack of detail is providing so much uncertainty.”

Otago Federated Farmers chairman Simon Davies says if more farming activities require resource consent, interest groups could use the process to delay the granting of those consents through vexatious demands and appeals.

Dunedin economist Ray Macleod says the report’s authors do not seem to understand the difference between intensification and efficiency.

As written, the proposal means a farmer producing more from less will be deemed to have intensified rather than becoming more efficient.

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