Widespread disbelief from farmers has greeted the publication of draft freshwater regulations by Northland Regional Council that include proposed livestock exclusion from 250,000ha of hill country.
Federated Farmers provincial president Colin Hannah said the knock-on effects would be crippling to Northland’s economy.
He forecast the probable closure of one meatworks, reduced competition, transport and animal welfare risks, closure of rural schools, increased fire risk, loss of council rates, and large costs for consents and auditing.
What appears to be the council’s preferred 10m waterway setback would also capture 5000ha of some of the best milking platform and cost Northland’s dairy farmers $27 million annually in lost production, he said.
Reduction of one and a half drystock units over 250,000ha of slopes above 25 degrees would add up to $270m of lost meat income annually, he said.
The multiplier effect of that lost farm income through the regional economy would be huge.
In the announcement at the beginning of the consultation period, Northland Regional Council (NRC) chair Tui Shortland said Te Mana o Te Wai was about putting the health of the water first, providing for human health needs second, and other uses of water third.
Farmers did not agree with that prioritisation, Hannah said.
The stock exclusion rules may get voted through the NRC and the resulting scramble for resource consents to graze would overload the system and send farmers broke.
“We have seen reports from Southland that farm plans and audits are costing up to $35,000, which is the rising cost of farming by consent.
“Nor are the qualified people available to do the assessments and compliance checks.”
Many Northland farmers are also facing demands for Significant Natural Areas to be identified and controlled.
“The combination of stock exclusion and SNAs will explode in farming districts,” Hannah said.
Federated Farmers is urging farmers to make submissions to NRC on the proposed freshwater plan change by March 4.
NRC said that freshwater farm plans will be made mandatory before the end of 2025. After consultation a revised freshwater plan will be published late in 2024.
Already 27 staff members are involved in freshwater consent compliance and enforcement and 5800 such checks were made in the 2022-23 financial year.
NRC issued 176 abatement notices and 101 infringement notices for activities impacting freshwater during that year.
It said all of the potential new actions to improve water quality will cost the council between $4m and $6m annually, compared with total rates income of $47m.
Some support to landowners with stock exclusion, riparian planting and wetland development could be budgeted at $1m to $2m annually, the NRC suggested.
But incentivisation needs to reach 50% of costs to encourage people to do the work.
“At a regional scale, it’s expected this level of contribution would not be nearly enough to encourage landowners to undertake works they wouldn’t otherwise do.”