Council chief executive finds visit valuable

Otago Regional Council chief executive Peter Bodeker (left) looks over plans for Newhaven with farmers Jane and Blair Smith. Photo by Sally Brooker
Otago Regional Council chief executive Peter Bodeker (left) looks over plans for Newhaven with farmers Jane and Blair Smith. Photo by Sally Brooker

The man leading the Otago Regional Council walked the talk recently.

Chief executive Peter Bodeker visited North Otago farmers Jane and Blair Smith, on March 19, spending two hours walking around their Five Forks property and discussing how the council and its ratepayers could work more effectively together for the common good.

The Smiths won the 2012 national Ballance Farm Environment Awards for their work at Newhaven Farms Ltd, a sheep, beef, forestry and dairy support operation spanning three family-owned properties.

They are also actively involved in the North Otago Sustainable Land Management Group (Noslam), which aims to improve water quality and promote good pastoral management.

Mr Bodeker, who joined the council in November 2012, said he had been away from the South Island for 30 years.

''The landscape as I remembered it has changed considerably.''

He now wanted to consider ''landscape values'' and how the people of Otago could prepare the region for the next 1000 years.

Mrs Smith said most farmers planned five to 10 years ahead, then as Ballance entrants they were encouraged to look at the coming 100 years. But Mr Bodeker had a much wider perspective.

He said the emergence of iwi as genuine and relevant parties in resource decisions had ''quite rightly'' forced the council to look 1000 years into the future.

''It's a challenge as a pakeha society. It's a valuable way to look at things.''

Maori used their land commercially, so it went beyond recreational qualities, Mr Bodeker said.

''Where do we progress to? What is the norm for land use, for commercial use and recreational use?''Mrs Smith said it was important for land uses to be both profitable and sustainable.

She was ''delighted'' Mr Bodeker was able to spend most of his day seeing how land was being farmed in the region.

''Visits like this are valuable to me - to see farms in practice,'' Mr Bodeker said.

He wanted farmers to understand how the council's Water Plan could be put into effect, especially in meeting stricter water-quality standards. Most farms had ''incredibly complex'' operations to factor in.

''That's the work we're doing now - how do we appropriately inform and measure water quality as it leaves the farm?''

He appreciated meeting groups like Noslam and the North Otago Irrigation Company, which were already addressing those issues.

Mr Bodeker and the Smiths agreed collaboration between all stakeholders was needed to progress.

The council was looking for trends showing improvements at first, rather than absolutes.

''It can't be fixed in one season if it's broken.''

That was why the new water-quality standards would not take effect until 2020 and the river measurement regime had been delayed until 2025.

''Prohibited activities are minimal,'' Mr Bodeker said.

''We've spent the last 10 years developing the plan. We're shifting into implementation.

''In 10 years' time, we will measure the effect.''

He could not foresee changes to the Water Plan before then because it had to be allowed to function.