Jamie McFadden, Groundswell environment spokesperson
The government is rolling out legislation that will see every farm required to have a mandatory “Farm Plan” through their local council. Another piece of compliance for farmers. Another thing to be certified and audited. Another cost. Millions of dollars being wasted on unnecessary box-ticking, meaning less money for environmental actions on the ground.
It isn’t just farmers and rural communities who are opposing this approach by the government; even some regional councils have made their disagreement clear. However, council concerns about Farm Plans have also been ignored by central government.
The core issue that is being universally opposed is the way the regulation is set to be a state controlled and one-size-fits-all. Additionally, it has been introduced in a scattergun manner with Farm Plans popping up in legislation relating to freshwater, climate change and environmental reforms to replace the Resource Management Act.
Farming groups, councils and people in rural communities are calling for partnership with farmers to be prioritised. Yet, for around a year now, there has been little clarity as to what is being worked on, leaving farmers uncertain about how this will impact them and when it’ll be dropped in their laps.
Groundswell NZ is urging the government to go back to the drawing board and to relook at an industry-led solution as proposed by farming groups. For Farm Plans to be successful, it is essential to have farmer buy-in and involvement in developing them.
The government’s mandated model has major detrimental implications for farmers compared to the industry-led approach advocated for by the farming sector. Many farmers remain confused about all the different Farm Plan approaches.
It is a recipe for failure to mandate all farmers have a government-prescribed, one-size-fits-all Farm Plan regardless of the farming activity, the catchment or region they are in, or the effects of their activity.
It is an unprecedented level of state control that would never be allowed under the original Resource Management Act, but this government is set to remove the protections ordinary citizens used to have from unrestrained state control.
Privacy and safety are other major concerns as state-controlled Farm Plans would be publicly discoverable, meaning farmers’ private information would be accessible to the public and environmental lobby groups. This could prove to be a real risk to property and personal safety.
By contrast, the industry approach to Farm Plans is centred on a partnership with trusted advisers who help farmers plan and review actions to address the priority environmental issues relevant to their farm, the particular catchment, and the resources available to them.
The Taranaki Regional Council (TRC) is dismayed at the likelihood that its hard work developing positive working relationships with farmers in its region over the past 25 years will all be undone by the government’s dictatorial approach. The council made a submission expressing its opposition to this model for Farm Plans. A model that it says it does not want and neither does the community.
The TRC’s submission states the government model will come at a significant cost to the council and landowners. This will inevitably cause a knock-on effect to ratepayers for an outcome that is unlikely to achieve any significant water quality improvements over and above current initiatives.
Farm Plans must be empowering. They must be a partnership between the farmer and their Farm Plan adviser(s) with the flexibility to meet each farmer’s needs while targeting the key environmental issues on each farm and catchment.
Groundswell NZ has called for farmers to refuse to do government-mandated Farm Plans. We urge all farmers to take part in this protest action, which will help farming advocates and regional councils lobby on our behalf for an industry-led approach instead.