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Farmers in North Otago claim they are already feeling the impact of changes to the regional water plan, even before any changes have been approved.
On the second day of public submission hearings on proposed changes to Plan 6A of the Otago Regional Council (ORC) Water Plan in Oamaru yesterday, North Otago farmers reiterated their belief that proposed changes would impose financial costs that would be impossible to live with.
Georgetown farmer Peter Borrie said he would have to drop production by 32% to comply with a proposed 30kg nitrogen discharge to water limit suggested in the plan.
Mr Borrie said that would mean a return to 1990 production levels.
Michael O'Connor, of Oamaru, also said he would have to reduce herd numbers from 700 to 460, which would set him back 20 years in production terms, and added that it was an issue faced by the whole region.
However, Maruakoa farmer and Federated Farmers North Otago Dairy chairman Lyndon Strang said although the plan change process was not yet complete and proposed nitrogen limits did not come into effect until 2019, farms were already feeling the financial knock-on effects.
"The effects are already with us and are very real. I know of two farm sales in this valley that have not gone ahead because of the risks presented by this plan change."
Mr Strang said lending rates for some farmers also now had a risk proportion built in, as a result of the uncertainty surrounding the impact of the proposed changes.
Hearing chairman Duncan Butcher said the problem was not as bad as many members of the North Otago farming community feared, as the nitrogen levels would not be what the council would be assessing in the first instance.
Although he admitted the way the plan had been put together did not make things clear, the first test would simply be to ensure water from a property did not reduce the quality of water outside that property.
"What the plan doesn't seem to do is put in a trigger level, explaining when you should start looking at the levels of nitrates.
"The plan change was never intended to put people out of business."
Independent hearing commissioner Clive Geddes said the plan did not propose to change the way people had been farming in the past, and pointed out that if water quality was found to be deteriorating, and if everything possible was being done to mitigate the problem, a Restricted Discretionary Consent could be sought to continue with existing levels.
Panel: Councillors Duncan Butcher (chairman), David Shepherd and independent member Clive Geddes.
Proposal: Changes to Otago's water regulations to prevent run-off in rural areas polluting the region's waterways.
Submitters: Michael O'Connor, B and J Smith, Karl Guy, Dugald MacTavish, Neil Smith, MW Smith, William Pile, Ronald Sheat, Nicholas Webster, Peter Borrie, Three Creeks Farm Ltd, Invernia Holdings Ltd, Elderslie Dairy Farms Ltd, Isbister Farms Ltd, Foxhaven Farms Ltd, WJ Johnston Estate Trust, Shalloch Farms Ltd, Windsor Park Dairies Ltd, Willowview Pastures Ltd, APS Heckler Family Trust, John Newlands Farming Company, Dulce-Domum Trust, Viewmont Ltd.
Quote of day: "I worry more about the proposed water management plan and effluent than I do about my mortgage" - Neil Smith