Friday, December 8, 2023

Parker’s unworkable rules must go

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Federated Farmers calls on the government to address the ‘broken promises’ and ‘unworkable’ freshwater rules with urgency.
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By Colin Hurst, Federated Farmers vice president

If the incoming Government are looking for ways to restore farmer confidence quickly, then repealing David Parker’s unworkable freshwater reforms must be at the very top of the priority list. 

That’s the clear message Federated Farmers have been sending to the National, ACT, and New Zealand First parties as they undertake their coalition negotiations.

While there has been no shortage of impractical regulation for farmers over the last six years, it is without doubt the freshwater rules that have put the most pressure on our rural communities. New rules for winter grazing, fertiliser use, and requiring a freshwater farm plan have added nothing but complexity and cost for farmers – and for very little environmental gain. 

Promises that freshwater farm plans would replace the need for expensive consents have been broken. Other rules have been constantly rewritten because they simply didn’t work the way Wellington bureaucrats thought they would behind the farm gate. 

The tragedy of it all is that taking such a rigid and heavy-handed approach has completely undermined a lot of good work already underway at the community level by catchment groups. 

As part of these freshwater reforms, there are also requirements for all regional councils to develop new regional plans to achieve new water quality standards and give effect to ‘Te Mana o te Wai’. 

These new regional plans are where the rubber will hit the road for farmers and growers. Regional councils have only just started to release their draft plans over the last few weeks, but they already paint a grim picture for rural New Zealand. 

Otago Regional Council were first out of the blocks in early October with a draft plan that would see dairy farmers in most catchments having to farm to a cap of 2.5 cows per hectare and 100 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare. 

That’s a 15% reduction from the current stocking rates in Otago. The fertiliser cap is a significant reduction from the current national average application of 140 kilograms per hectare per year on dairy farms. Sheep and beef farmers will also be impacted, with requirements to fence off all waterways on low slope land with a 10-metre setback. 

At the other end of the country, a draft plan has also been released for Northland. In order to meet Parker’s new requirements for sediment and E.coli, a consent will be needed to farm on land over 25 degrees. That’s a staggering total of 250,000 hectares, or 40% of Northland’s agricultural land.

Obtaining a resource consent will be an expensive process for Northland sheep and beef farmers, and once they’ve gone through the process, there’s a high chance consent may not even be granted. This is a dire situation for thousands of farming families. 

Horizons Regional Council, which covers Manawatū and Whanganui, are also starting to go through the process of establishing what reductions and management practice change may be needed to comply with new national limits.

The consultation documents will be a chilling read for anyone who farms in the region. They’ll have to make huge reductions in nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment, and E. coli to meet new limits.

Horizons has modelled the impact of far-reaching farm management changes, which include fencing off critical areas, retiring marginal land, reducing fertiliser use, planting catch crops, and planting riparian zones.

Even after farmers have completed all these mitigations, there will still be areas where modelled actions are insufficient and farmers will have to reduce contaminants further, between 50% and 100%. 

Alarmingly, this captures more than half the region, including Manawatū, Turakina, and Whangaehu.

These three nightmare examples are just a drop in the bucket. Otago, Northland, and Horizons just happened to be the first out the gate, but make no mistake, 13 other regional plans are on their way for the rest of the country that will be just as bad, if not worse, for farmers. 

The problem may be stark, but the solution is clear: Parker’s unworkable freshwater rules must go. That’s exactly what Federated Farmers are asking the incoming Government to prioritise.

Federated Farmers, New Zealand’s leading independent rural advocacy organisation, has established a news and insights partnership with AgriHQ, the country’s leading rural publisher, to give the farmers of New Zealand a more informed, united and stronger voice. Feds news and commentary appears each week in its own section of the Farmers Weekly print edition and online.
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