ORC plan has far-reaching implications

Mark Patterson
Mark Patterson
"Consultation on the Otago Regional Council’s new land and water plan has recently been under way," writes Federated Farmers Otago president Mark Patterson.

The outcomes will set parameters for farming for the next decade or more.

Stage one is consulting the public on what are our shared visions for environmental outcomes in Otago. I would call it the kumbaya phase.

Everyone, farmers especially, cares about the state of our waterways and safe drinking water. While this phase is a necessary first step it’s hard not to see it as a box-ticking exercise given the outcome is heavily prescribed by the overarching national policy statement.

Otago is first cab off the rank nationally in giving effect to the new policy framework and codifying the concept of Te Mana O te Wai or the health of the water.

This takes precedence over all other considerations, with human health ranked second and vibrance of local communities below this in the hierarchy of priorities. This is a major shift from the past where environmental, social, cultural and economic factors were weighted more evenly.

The rubber will really start hitting the road in the next round when the ORC will come back to us with the plan to achieve said outcomes.

For urban dwellers this will invariably lead to higher rates bills but for farmers the shift could be much more profound. The potential for nutrient limit-setting, input control, grazing management and irrigation takes could have widespread implications for the viability of some farming systems and have significant economic impact on the rural communities which service them. Real people with real livelihoods.

To be clear, no-one is arguing for a licence to pollute. Farmers have put in enormous effort into lifting our collective environmental performance over the last decade and this is gathering pace.

The proliferation of catchment groups, now numbering 23 in Otago, shows that farmers have not waited for regulation to act.

The greatest fear that farmers have is a heavily bureaucratic system that ends up capturing all farmers in a one-size-fits-all regime. The hope is we can engineer a plan that targets those areas where there is identifiable environmental degradation without unnecessarily burdening everyone with expensive and ill-conceived rules. Timelines will be imperative.

Farmers are already punch-drunk with an avalanche of new regulations coming from all directions but we must have our heads in the game. The land and water plan will have implications for decades to come.

 

 

 

 

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