Freshwater policy change expected

DairyNZ principal regional policy adviser David Cooper, of Dunedin. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
DairyNZ principal regional policy adviser David Cooper, of Dunedin. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
DairyNZ principal regional policy adviser David Cooper, of Dunedin, talks to Shawn McAvinue about a national policy statement on freshwater management for Otago Regional Council to develop a land and water plan for the region.

Q. Are these proposed rules something the new government could put on the policy bonfire?

That’s the tricky part. Some changes might be made by the three parties who are having conversations around how to form a government. They’ve all said they want to see some changes made but we are not sure on the detail and I certainly think some farmers will think it will be scrapped entirely, but that’s not likely to be the case, so at present we have to play the cards we are dealt and work within the existing framework.

Q. In a nutshell, is the plan proposing to make farmers gain a discretionary consent to run more than 2.5 cows per hectare and apply more than 100kg of nitrogen per hectare?

Any activity that can take place on land that is going to have an impact on freshwater is trying to be addressed in the plan — it’s more than that consenting framework, it’s a whole range of activities from offal pits to silage pits and farm waste and land-use change and all that sort of thing.

Q. Are DairyNZ pushing back on the blanket ruling rather than the council accessing each farm individually?

Bang on. Regional councils need to develop these freshwater plans and need to address some of the freshwater quality issues in their regions. Even the most optimistic acknowledges a need to address freshwater quality issues. The biggies for us, you set those specific rules and regulations of absolute high risk activities at a fairly low level and you work with farmers and catchment groups to develop bespoke responses to those water quality issues. What they are proposing, as you say is very blanket, a one-fits-all approach, when we want a more risk-based approach, where councils are looking at specific risks of a specific land use and saying OK, for this land use we want you to address these things, because we consider them high risk.

Q. Online feedback on the proposed rules and regulations close on Monday. Is that the final chance for farmers to make a submission?

That’s not the end of the process. Farmers will get the opportunity to submit on a notified plan change at the end of June next year as well.

Q. It’s a busy time for dairy farmers now — calving’s finished and mating has started and they are getting crops in. Do you think it is worthwhile for farmers in Otago to find the time to provide feedback before Monday?

Farmers are feeling overwhelmed, so the regional council can’t assume that by opening this up to consultation they will get the farmer’s perspective but it does underline the importance of private sector groups like DairyNZ, Beef + Lamb and Federated Farmers.

Farmers will have a range of issues and they should have a look at the ORC website. We have some information on our website listing our key issues and if you are going to submit, we suggest you submit on these ones. Or they can get in touch with DairyNZ, Beef + Lamb, Feds and say look these are my thoughts on this, can you make sure it is reflected in your submission. If we have a few farmers saying this isn’t going to work on my farm and you have DairyNZ, Beef + Lamb, Feds saying this isn’t going to work and here is an alternative, that’s a pretty powerful one-two punch.

Q. Any other thoughts?

I would like to acknowledge there are some regional council staff who are working hard and genuinely want to hear from farmers.

 

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