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West Otago dairy farmer Bruce Eade is concerned about the Government’s new freshwater regulations which start coming into force from September 3, saying many of the rules concerning winter cropping and grazing were "almost unfarmable" in the South.
The Eade family are longtime dairy farmers and converted their Kelso property 25 years ago. They milk about 550 cows, have a free-stall barn and also winter beef cattle on crop.
"We’re lifers, you could say. We do it for the cows is the biggest thing for us. If I didn’t love my cows, I wouldn’t be doing it. There’s far easier ways to make a living," Mr Eade said.
Earlier this week, he took to Twitter to issue an invitation to Environment Minister David Parker to visit his property.
"This is being spoken from my heart about the concern that your new laws have gone too far ... and will greatly impact the farming industry in the south, in particular the dairy industry.
"I am very happy for you to visit me in person ... and we can go for a walk round our farm and I can point out the practical steps we, and most other farmers, are taking to mitigate any environmental issues that are of concern for you.
"We have nothing to hide, we just want to be left to get on with what we do best and that is to help feed the world," he said.
Yesterday, a spokesman for Mr Parker said he had declined to respond to Mr Eade’s tweets: "If Mr Eade would like to write to the minister, he will receive a response in due course."
Mr Eade said farmers were all seeking an improvement in water quality, and he believed water quality and farming practices had markedly improved over the past five years, due to the creation of numerous community-run catchment groups.
Earlier this month, Environment Southland said farmers should be commended for their efforts to improve winter grazing practices; this year’s aerial inspections had found widespread examples of good practice, following concerns expressed in 2019.
A lot of the topography in Southland and Otago was of rolling contour, much of it greater than 10 degrees for which a consent for grazing would now be required; Mr Eade believed that figure had been "plucked out of the air".
Many winter graziers would probably be unable to take cattle, resulting in a large drop in income. Those cattle would "still have to go somewhere".
The rules around pugging were "absolutely absurd". The Eades wintered bulls, with an average weight of 600kg, on winter crop as part of their move towards zero bobby calves.
"It has been a kind winter in the South this year and even they, due to their sheer size and weight, have pugged parts of their paddock. It is almost unavoidable, even on a grass paddock, to not pug to some degree during winter in the South with heavy stock."
Having to gain consent for such activities was a huge concern for farmers as there were concerns about processing timeframes.
"We farm to the weather, not to a time clock. A consent held up in the office can drastically reduce the success of a crop grown due to timing, and have a flow-on effect for the farmer in the months ahead."
Farmers were not looking for favours — "it is what it is" — but he was tired of "being painted as villains for so long now".
"It gets to the point where you say enough is enough. We’re not trying to change the world, just trying to get the message out from the little people at the bottom of the chain that we do matter and we are trying."
On the Eade farm, they preferred milking 500 good cows rather than 700 or 800 lesser animals.
"We’ve tried to find a happy balance, not pillaging the system and stacking the cows on. I still get up every morning and milk my cows and do the best we can."
Earlier this week, Federated Farmers Southland president Geoffrey Young described the freshwater regulations as "naive and impractical".
He called on local farmers to ignore the new requirements on getting resource consents for winter grazing until there was more practicality concerning it.
The three elements seen as impractical were the rules about pugging, deadlines for resowing crop, and paddock slope.
It was "incredulous" the Government had aspirations of growing agriculture’s export earnings by $44billion over the next decade, while "stifling" the sector with unworkable rules to the extent that stock numbers would have to fall to even start to comply, he said.
In a response on Twitter, Environment Associate Minister Eugenie Sage said the call to boycott was "irresponsible when the NPS (National Policy Statement) was developed after full public consultation and scientific input".
When asked about the effect on Environment Southland, the resources required and whether there were concerns about delays, policy, planning and regulatory services general manager Vin Smith said there were "a number of pieces to this package".
The council needed to understand the implications of each so it could provide clear and correct advice, particularly for farmers, but it would have a wider impact as well.
"We have a history of working on these types of challenges with industry organisations in Southland and coming up with a plan together like what we achieved with winter grazing over the last year or so.
"While we work through the details of the Government’s package, our approach is to work with applicants and consultants on a case by case basis," Mr Smith said.
The Otago Regional Council was working through the possible impact, particularly on its ability to process the "significant number of resource consents required for intensive winter grazing", general manager regulatory Richard Saunders said.
"We recognise that ORC is likely to see an increase in the number of resource consents being lodged, and will work to ensure that these can be processed in a timely manner."
It was aiming to design a consenting process that was "as simple and straightforward as possible".
"We acknowledge that a lot of the work for next winter’s grazing season is already underway, so we are working as quickly as possible to have a process in place to give farmers certainty," Mr Saunders said.
The council was reviewing its resources to ensure it had appropriate staff to manage the increase in consent numbers.
Anyone who thought they might need a consent for intensive winter grazing under the new rules was encouraged to visit the council website; they could also speak to a member of staff to discuss their particular situation, Mr Saunders said.