Govt to review fresh water farm plans

Andrew Hoggard. Photo: RNZ
Associate Minister for the Environment Andrew Hoggard. Photo: RNZ
The government is reviewing the roll out of fresh water farm plans and says work already underway in some regions could be halted.

The Labour Party announced the plans as part of the Essential Freshwater package in 2020 in a bid to reduce the harm farming has on freshwater.

The plans were to be rolled out region-by-region, for farmers with 20 hectares or more in arable or pastoral use, five hectares or more in horticultural use, or 20 hectares or more in combined use.

Work is underway in several regions already, but today the government announced it will review the plans.

Associate Minister for the Environment Andrew Hoggard - former Federated Farmers president and life-long farmer - said the current system was too costly and complex, and too broadly applied.

"We want to make sure that the cost of completing a farm plan, in both time and money, is matched with the level of risk.

"Using property and catchment specific farm plans makes sense because they can be used to identify environmental risks and plan practical on-farm actions to manage those risks."

Hoggard said as part of the review the government may look into whether current requirements to complete a freshwater farm plan could be paused while improvements are developed.

"We want an enduring system that builds on the good work of farmers in these regions while making sure that any improvements to the system don't result in sudden changes to plans already being developed.

"We are exploring how to make any changes fair for all farmers."

Federated Farmers welcomed the announcement and freshwater spokesperson Colin Hurst said the current system was "incredibly frustrating, with a lot of unnecessary cost, complexity and duplication".

"We have been calling for urgent and significant changes to make the whole process simpler and more affordable for farmers for some time now, so it's good to finally see some movement."

The devil would be in the detail, he said, and many farmers would now be in a state of limbo wondering if they should get a freshwater farm plan under the current rules or wait for changes.

"The government needs to address this uncertainty by extending timelines in regions that already have freshwater farm plan requirements in place.

"Councils have already started implementing freshwater farm plan rules, but it makes no sense to force farmers to comply when we know the rules are about to change."