Farmers challenge water policy

Federated Farmers is warning the Government to think carefully about the message its new water policy, announced yesterday, would send.

Dairy chairman Andrew Hoggard said the quality of New Zealand's water bodies was ''generally stable to improving'' and using the law to enforce stock exclusion from the start of the 2017-18 season implied the Sustainable Dairying: Water Accord had failed.

''The voluntary accord is an outstanding success. It's a marvellous example of dairy farmers, industry and councils all working together for better environmental outcomes,'' he said.

Environment Minister Amy Adams and Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy were in Southland with Prime Minister John Key yesterday to make the announcement a re-elected government would spend $10 million over 10 years to buy and retire selected areas of farmland next to important waterways.

National would also introduce a mandatory requirement to exclude dairy cattle from the waterways.

Irrigation New Zealand applauded the announcement, saying the policy recognised the value of irrigation and continues to place the responsibility of cleaning up New Zealand's waterways with the community.

But Mr Hoggard said in just more than a decade, stock had been excluded from 23,000km of waterways. That was enough fencing to go from Auckland to Beijing and return, with a side trip to Queenstown.

As of last year, 90% of all dairy farm waterways had been fenced.

''Stock exclusion may appear voluntary at an industry level, but it is a Fonterra condition of supply so, for farmers, it's effectively compulsory,'' he said.

Ms Adams said the $10 million over 10 years would give councils another option to help manage freshwater by enabling sensitive areas to be retired for environmental purposes.

National would introduce a requirement to exclude dairy cattle from waterways by July 1, 2017 and work with industry to exclude other cattle from waterways over time on intensively farmed lowland properties, she said.

Federated Farmers meat and fibre chairman Rick Powdrell said with some politicians wanting to exclude all stock on all farms, extensive farm systems would become almost impossible to farm.

The biggest environmental issue for drystock farmers was not pure stock exclusion but land stability and combating erosion.

Drystock farmers used Beef and Lamb's land environment plans which were worked through regionally with many councils.

''The problem we have with blunt regulation is that it might solve one problem but cause many more,'' Mr Powdrell said.

''The practicalities of steep gullies, flash flooding and invasive noxious weeds, means it's nigh impossible to fence off every single waterway.

''You are talking about topography and nature.''

One of the best ways to keep cattle out of water was to provide shade trees and reticulated water, giving them a chance to keep cool and away from a waterway, Mr Powdrell said.

dene.mackenzie@odt.co.nz