Monday, February 26, 2024

Regulation rollback: actions will speak louder than words

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Some certainty about how the Government plans to move forward would go a long way, farming body says.
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Federated Farmers are calling on the Government to move quickly and give farmers clarity about when changes to agricultural regulations will be rolled out. 

Vice president and freshwater spokesperson Colin Hurst says farmers are expecting to see how and when policies included in the Government’s coalition agreements will be brought into effect. 

“It’s one thing to say you’ll do something, but you’ve actually got to follow through and deliver it. That’s what will make a difference to farmers and our rural communities.

“Farmers have had a hard run for the last few years. Some certainty about how the Government plans to move forward would go a long way to inject a much-needed dose of confidence into the sector.” 

Hurst says the Government deserves a lot of credit for moving quickly to repeal Labour’s resource management reforms before Christmas, a top priority for Federated Farmers.  

“But their announcements on how they plan to address the woeful National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management fall well short of meeting farmers’ expectations.”

Late last year the Government committed to rebalancing Te Mana o te Wai, delaying implementation of the NPS-FM until 2027, and eventually replacing these rules with something more workable.

“That’s positive in the longer term but, in reality, those changes will do very little to relieve the huge pressure farmers are feeling right now, which is being driven by unachievable freshwater bottom lines,” Hurst says. 

Some regional councils are proposing unachievable new water quality standards that go even further than the NPS-FM requires for nitrogen, phosphorus, E. coli and sediment. 

“Simply pushing out the implementation dates probably won’t be enough to have councils stop work on this because the NPS-FM requires councils to give effect to the regulations ‘as soon as practicable’.”

Federated Farmers also want to understand the proposed timelines for changes to Farm Plans and regulations relating to winter grazing, wetlands, and stock exclusion under the National Environmental Standard for Freshwater.

National’s coalition agreements with both ACT and NZ First discuss potential changes to Freshwater Farm Plans, with farmers unsure whether they should be spending money on these plans now under the current regulations or waiting until the rules are reviewed. 

Hurst sees some merit in farm plans if they can be used as an alternative to expensive and uncertain consenting processes. 

He also has concerns about stock exclusion rules. Without changes, the compliance deadline for dairy support cattle on all slopes, and beef cattle and deer on low slope land, is July 2025.

“That might sound a long way off, but the extensive and costly fencing that would be needed if these regulations aren’t altered can’t be put up overnight. The planning, budgeting and installation would need a long lead-in.”

Federated Farmers made their opposition to new stock exclusion rules clear from day one. 

“The consultation was poor, timelines were rushed, and the low slope maps were hopelessly inaccurate,” Hurst says. 

“Significant changes were required before the ink had even dried on the paper the rules were written on.” 

Simon Cameron, Federated Farmers West Coast meat & wool chair, says the Labour Government had eventually recognised their regulations were particularly impractical for low-intensity farming systems.  

“It was just absurd to require farmers, who had run low numbers of cattle on river flats for decades, to fence rivers that regularly flood or change course, particularly when the quality of that water has been confirmed as pristine.”

Last August Cameron and others in his catchment group organised a workshop for local farmers to help draft submissions on changes to stock exclusion rules. 

“We were pretty chuffed when we saw changes announced just before the election that were near word-for-word what we’d asked for.”

The changes mean farmers grazing on Department of Conservation or Crown pastoral lease land are exempt from the stock exclusion rules. 

“Unfortunately, we didn’t quite get everything we wanted, with extensive farming on freehold land below 500m still subject to the regulations, but we’re counting it as a real win for Federated Farmers and common sense,” Cameron says.

He agrees on the need for the new Government to move quickly to give farmers some certainty on the direction of travel and timeline for changes.

“If they could move to quickly remove unnecessary regulations, restrictions, and costs of production, that would make a big difference to our lives.”

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