Guy Trafford reviews the latest Fresh Water Action plan from the perspective of farmers and concludes many will not be too adversely affected, and those that are, probably need to do a rethink of their systems

Guy Trafford reviews the latest Fresh Water Action plan from the perspective of farmers and concludes many will not be too adversely affected, and those that are, probably need to do a rethink of their systems

The latest epistle from Government regarding water (all 105 pages of it) while aspirational in its aims, broadly most would have to agree with its aims.

However, while the document appears to have a lot more detail than many of its predecessors, it is still the detail that is going to generate debate. At this stage it may be useful to remind all that the document is still a discussion/consultation document with feed back open until October 17th although given the timing, few farmers will have the time to devote as much focus to the document as they would like or need.

The flat and easy slope farming country requirements are relatively easy to follow and while farmers may not like the regulations applied, they have been reasonably well signalled. It is the speed which they have come which has surprised this writer.

Hill country, if my interpretation is correct has been given an easier ride.

Local Government New Zealand in anticipation of the “Action Plan for Healthy Waterways” had already prepared a response paper, in part at least, based upon some of the leaked information through the media.

They have provided a 10 point response of which the crux is that they believe having a more decentralised program, controlled by local governments, rather than a totally prescriptive approach is more likely to better capture the intent of the government. That way should lead to less ill considered consequences and the economic impact on local communities cannot be discounted.

Reading between the lines in seems that LGNZ have a belief that while supporting the aspirations, given the breadth and timeframes provided there is a degree of nativity in what they are aiming to achieve.

However, it does appear that Central Government have either lost confidence or don’t trust local governments to have either the will or the expertise to set the programmes up and so this interim plam is to get the country onto an equal footing which local bodies can then take over (inherit) in 2025.

Federated Farmers came out strongly opposed to the proposal saying that in some areas they will be “a ban on farming”. But FF President Katie Milne on the Country sounded more moderate, although concerned.

The figure of an 80% reduction in nitrogen outputs has been mentioned by Feds spokesperson Chris Allen. I couldn’t find references that would lead to this conclusion unless there is a misinterpretation of the percentages of reduction. I.e.” For example in the Hinds catchment (Canterbury), properties with a nitrogen baseline exceeding 20kg/ha/yr must reduce nitrogen losses 15 per cent by 2025, 25 per cent by 2030, and 36 per cent by 2035”. Added together these come to 76% but my reading is a total reduction of 36% by 2035 not a compounding figure. Be glad to hear if somebody finds a different interpretation but if I’m correct Fed Farmers spokes people are not helping their credibility with the public.

Within the proposal there is certainly strong restrictions on any land use change from less intensive farming systems to cow dairying. The reality is that due to the signals coming out of Government there has already been a shut down of dairy conversions so while the proposal wording is strong it may not have any great impact.

Where the impact will be felt is on farmers practising intensive cattle wintering systems. It appears a leaf has been taken out of the Southland Regional Councils book with restrictions coming in on the total areas /percentages of a farm that may be able to be used as intensive wintering blocks. How much this will impact on the amount of available wintering land remains to be seen.

What is likely is that it will ‘encourage’ more farmers to move towards having some form of housed system for at least the winter and likely to extend into the shoulders as well.

This means more capital investment (yet again) but it may also provide opportunities for extended milking seasons.

There are plenty of examples showing that this has the potential to be at least cash neutral and for some profitable. The catch may come from the fact that many dairy farmers are already stretching their lines of credit and going cap in hand to the banks for further credit may not be what the banks are looking for. Some of the banks have already said they wish to reduce their exposure to the rural sector.

The sheep sector judging by their omission from many of the regulations appear to be seen as the favoured sector, so long as they stay as sheep farming.

Where things got a bit murky was in the discussions around hill country or slope in excess of 10 degrees. The old rule of thumb was that terracing from sheep tracks start at about 15 degrees to give an idea of the slopes. This land is excluded from the fencing out of waterways rules unless the farm has a stocking rate of 14 su per ha or greater at farm level or 18su per ha at paddock level. Generally, this should leave hill country farms out of the picture and able to carry on farming as per usual. My cynical self finds this too good to be true. I have always felt that hill country have managed to stay below the radar remarkably well and in reality with the strategic use of poplar (or willow) pole planting and electric fencing there is potential to reduce hillside run-off considerably. The stocking rate limits, providing everybody is talking the same language, are high(ish) and with high producing sheep 14 su‘s equates to around 11.5 ewes per ha or around 2.5 cows - although with the manipulation of liveweights and performance recording there is the potential for some game playing.

Who is going to do the monitoring of all of the additional regulations in addition to the existing monitoring that is required, especially when we get into GHG monitoring is going to be ‘interesting’. They’re not the sort of jobs fresh graduates would be looking forward to, having to front up to gnarly old farmers who have little interest in playing the compliance game.

So, to finish, the aspirations have merit. They will help New Zealand market itself and produce as being credible and not just a ‘green washed.’ And given the state of fresh water is supposedly the top concern for 80% of those surveyed any current or incoming government is/was going to have to tackle this area so they should not come as a surprise.

I’d recommend interested readers go to the main document and at least read Chapter 8 on Farming (Pages 65-83); it is an interesting read.

Hopefully farming leadership tackle this from a positive position as the changes are going to come and they will get better traction and responses from the non-rural sectors by working constructively rather than adopting an entrenched negative position.

Katie Milne has brought a fresher approach to Fed Farmers despite the difficult issues they as the general farmers representative have to advocate on, and seems to be able to take a rational approach without getting too many members and critics backs up.

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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Good piece. I found the farmers at the Dunedin meeting thoughtful and understanding - but those who bother to attend are probably at one end of the spectrum.

More interesting, was the bureaucrat who asked who was there for water quality (most were) then failed to ask who were there for the other items - soil quality-retention, urban sprawl, product stewardship and waste management. Most of us were there for multiple reasons - the vote was an either/or. Self-aggrandisement or mathematical ignorance?

I think for the most part, farmers acknowledge they need to reduce their impact on the environment. What frustrates them the most is when they have implemented measures prescribed by the 'experts' e.g. riparian planting, fencing off waterways, precision fertiliser application etc, and then a bureaucrat sitting in an office decides that these measures are infact not adequate or based on new research find these measures to be now not fit for purpose. This after the farmers have already spent their time and resources doing what they thought was right now find themselves not compliant because the goal posts have once again changed

Unfortunately most dairy farmers thought the last National Government were working for them.

The reality was quite difference. Jonkey aid and abated intensification, turned a blind eye to the downstream effects (excuse the pun), and watched the commission check roll in. Never trust a bankster.

Fair weather sailor he was. Haven't seen him at any dairy farmers meetings lately have we?

STAG (The Science and Technical Advisory Group) considers that the current attributes and bottom lines are insufficient to provide for ecosystem health. It has proposed a new bottom line for nitrogen in rivers at an annual median of 1.0 milligrams per litre of dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) which is a different measure to the toxicity attribute. STAG proposes a bottom line for phosphorus in rivers at an annual median of 0.018 milligrams per litre of dissolved reactive phosphorus (DRP).
Page 46 of Action for Healthy Waterways report.
As you say it’s the detail. 1.0 mg/l is a target could be described in various ways including draconian and aspirational.

At first glance it doesn't seem too different to Waikato's healthy rivers plan, although I think the low intensity hill country exemption is at a lower stocking rate (in healthy rivers).

The thing a lot of people are objecting to in North Waikato is not being unable to convert to dairy but being unable to change land use to market gardening.

I agree with this. Having read it theres not to much different from what has been flagged already. Anyone saying this a shock hasn't read anything for the last 5 years. Nitrogen seems to be the hard one but this is already happening anyway. What this says is we don't want anymore pollution and start to reduce it. Status quo of unlimited development wont happen. This means farming will be based upon cash profit going forward. Living on Capital gain is a distant memory.

Hill country would generally be the headwaters of streams and rivers. I guess the focus is on getting overall water quality up , so perhaps the gains in hill country are not worth the costs, given the water is already relatively clean. However there is value in having high water quality from source , to the plains , where a lower quality probably existed naturally anyway. Hill country returns could not support the kind of fencing and planting required , I would suggest they are supported by regional councils and govt as a matter of national interest.

They should try and bring it in as soon as possible. Regional councils have really stuffed up. Im my area it's the regional council that issued crazy water takes, We still have huge surface takes for intensive dairy, which the council now treat as shallow bores, the resultant low river flows concentrate nutrients. They screwed up not following the National policy statement on fresh water management, and letting water quality continue to decline.
They consented feedlots, they failed to take action under the RMA, they built a huge new building that leaked and needed costly renovation, they don't listen to the ecologists like Mike Joy ,who could help a lot of farmers understand the effect of their farming practices.
Then they tried to built a dam with no knowledge base to judge the costs etc, if built all those in the scheme would be facing nutrient restrictions. Then worst of all, 7 people died in Havelock North from water contamination.

The water plan can only be described as highly aspirational. The level for dissolved inorganic nitrogen at 1mg/litre is orders of magnitude more stringent than that for drinking water, and considered unattainable by Mid Canterbury dairy farmers, who had been given to believe that the target would be 6.9 mg/litre. The hierarchical structure on which the plan is based puts fish first, human consumption second and everything else last. Section 5 of the plan states that where nutrient discharge from a catchment is considered too high, farms must transition to less intensive land use. The examples section speaks of how this could be achieved, with either the ten or twenty five ( yet to be decided ) highest dischargers having to reduce their discharges to less than the 90th or 75th percentile.This has the potential to set neighbour against neighbour. The plan cites the example of the Rotorua catchment where a fund has been established to purchase nitrogen discharge allocations from farmers wishing to sell them and de-intensify, but Ministry of Environment spokespeople at road shows for the plan indicated that this sort of outlet was not contemplated. Section 8 of the plan talks of the requirement to fence 5 metre setbacks from streams. On our previous farm this would have involved erecting and maintaining 20kms of fence ( admittedly we had done some, but not at 5 metres ), and the loss of use of about 20 hectares of land. We would presumably have been expected to maintain those fences, re-erect them after floods, keep the weeds down and pay the rates on the 20ha. On that farm Transit NZ wanted a little corner for road realignment - they paid for the land, paid the legal costs and paid for a new fence. Transpower wanted an easement so they could add to an existing transmission line - they paid compensation for the intrusion on our land, and paid the legal costs of the easement.When I raised this with MoE staff at the roadshow they claimed to be unable to see the connection. In my opinion the consultation/roadshow process is a farce. The MoE staff were unable to give any insight into the proposed workings of the plan, and many questions did not receive a satisfactory answer, merely a parroting of the text of the plan. One thing that was reiterated was that the plan would take many, many years in its fulfillment. One is entitled then to ask, why the urgency now, especially as all the costs likely to fall on farmers are by their nature upfront. It seems to me that the whole process is a cynical attempt to impose another layer of controls on the farming industry with the cost loaded onto farmers by way of farm environment plans, freshwater extensions and external audits. One farmer at the Ashburton meeting commented that at the present rate " it will cost me $10,000 every time I change my underpants." One thing is for sure - if the plan is not made acceptable to all parts of the political spectrum it will not survive beyond the next election.

I think we need to accept change, we can either fight with this gov't or work with, I see this as a genuine wish to work with farmers, just wait till town folk realise they will have to seperate sewage from storm water. There is a new movement in the States which I find really exciting, I don't know how it's going to work here but it's reductionist, it's solar capture it's less fertiliser and chemicals.

Those nutrient problems in the Canterbury need to be dealt with we need to look at new systems. I have lots of links but one was a farmer drawing water from the Ogallala aquifer. He had %60 reduction in water take and then only shallow bores. He had a long look at the problem, he added hose to his centre pivot so the sprinklers were on 18" of the ground, he then set his gps up to drill maize in a circle following the nozzle. So now the nozzle is in the maize following the rows, limiting evaporation and putting the water where it's needed. He did the same amount of land as the year before with water left over.

I wonder why they don't look at underground drip feeds. Get the water where its needed , without the evaporation losses.

it's really expensive and prone to damage. Lots in California.

Welcome to what others have to do. The forest industry has these setbacks (and wider) on all waterways - the proposals here are ultra light compared to the forestry NES and we don’t have animals. No compensation just get on with it. I would be thankful it’s so lenient.

Point taken about the setbacks, except to say that they go with the territory if one chooses to plant trees. You don't have the expense of a fence or the ongoing cost of maintenance.It seems to me that environmental considerations now trump everything. Property rights no longer count for anything -- government can do anything and take anything if it's done in the name of the environment. If they are permitted by the electorate to continue on that path nothing or no-one will be safe.

The environment is everything.

What redcows said. It staggers me to think that there are still those who cannot grasp that

Yep - the comments from the fellow with the nightcap belong in the history books.

We are over-using 'our environment', which really means we're drawing down resources and filling up sinks. You can't treat that as an either/or. It's a 100% underwrite.

Not being rude but “goes with the territory..” applies not only with trees, which have no nutrient runoff, but with any land use. No land use can get a free pass and this is the big culture change all land users have to get our heads around - people don’t want any more pollution and want to see it start to reduce in our waterways.

Guy Trafford you need to check out the - NPS
Although high level principles are largely agreed by most New Zealanders. The devil is in the detail of the National Policy Statement (NPS) water quality limits.

- the relevant details are as follows:
The NPS has a new bottom line for nitrogen in rivers at an annual median of 1.0 milligrams per litre of dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) .

DIN is the sum of nitrite (NO2), nitrate (NO3) and ammonia (NH3).

All forms of nitrogen are measured in g/m3 (the same as mg/L) or parts per billion (ppb). 1 ppb = 0.001 g/m

The current NPS has 6.9mg/L as a bottom line for Nitrate-N this is greater than 1mg/L DIN (dissolved inorganic nitrogen) as the DIN is the sum of the nitrite, nitrate and ammonia.

What this means is no farming in NZ full stop

MFE and responsible minsters are being Disingenuous

I don't see much advantage to the country shutting farming down. Farmers need to work with govt and find middle ground, as long as water quality is suffering farmers with high nutrient loading will be at risk.

The logical solution is to cut numbers, reducing inputs. Some farmers are trying to fight it, it's a losing battle as they no longer control the narrative.

It appears that the standard that is being pursued for environmental outcomes is that which prevailed in pre-European times, when NZ's population was thousands of hunter- gatherers. These standards are not compatible with a population of five million, nor are they compatible with modern living in an industrialised society. For example, cars and trucks travel along our highways, trailing CO2 into the atmosphere and tyre rubber, brake lining detritus and oil slicks onto the roads, from where it is washed into waterways. If it is a rural waterway farmers cop the blame. The point is, we all pollute to some extent with everything that we do. As to reducing numbers, that is easier to say than it is to do. Breeding more productive animals so that fewer are required is something all farmers try to do, but progress that way is slow and fraught (think m.bovis ). Breeding across to A2 cows has the potential to increase financial returns while not necessarily increasing cow numbers, but the process can take up to ten years and will the A2 premium still be available then? I think farmers are prepared to work with government if government is prepared to listen to them, and so far there is little evidence of that.

Smh, it is physically impossible to get more and more out of the same thing without reaching an end point. We are there, we are trying to back the truck up, that is our proof that we are there

A well balanced article. Perhaps the biggest hazard is the blatant misinformation and scare mongering from FedupFarmers spokespersons. Rubbish like an 80% reduction for the Hinds Catchment when it is 35% by 2035. Thats 16 years to achieve it. That ranks as being as stupid as Steven Joyces $18 cabbages. And as for "Farmers walking off their land"!!! It is probably time the banks recovered some of the huge amount of debt owed them. A lot of land unsuitable for dairying was converted. The Mackenzie Country for example should never have been able to be converted. Will the dairy industry pick up the costs of damage to Lake Benmore and the rivers feeding it? Product prices are looking good, especially for venison, beef and lamb. That is great news and a just reward for our hard working traditional farmers.

I think you may be underestimating the efect of the proposals.
The 35% figure for the Hinds catchment is something that is already in place.
If you look at the map on p49 you will see the STAG perspective is that N leaching needs to be reduced greatly across all NZ dairy regions. In Canterbury they are suggesting by about 75%. My understanding is that this is over and above existing restrictions.
Keith W

Keith and Guy - the disturbing aspect to all this is the evident confusion over exactly what limits apply, where they apply, and all this against a submission period that is crazily short. Heck, even the gun register submission period is months longer. Perhaps the effort needs to go into extension of the submission period, because, in line with the ancient saw that 'Govmint is possible only with the consent of the Governed', there needs to be far clearer communications at all levels, before the requisite trust, and acquiescence/compliance can be assumed. Plus, if capex and other expensive opex is in the mix in order to achieve some of the goals in some areas, the discussion needs to involve the financiers and Treasury. because there is a considerable public-good aspect to most of the objectives.

My point remains. If the people want better roads they are prepared to accept that in order for this to happen Transit may have to purchase land, i.e. compensate the landowner for the alienation of his land. The way this plan is framed there are two issues in play. One is the desire to reduce run off from the land, the other is the landowners desire to protect his property rights. The action that would satisfy both of these objectives is that if the government were to survey, purchase and fence the desired setback. This is called putting one's money where one's mouth is, and does not involve loading a cost for the public onto individuals.

Agree with the NZTA paying to purchase land required for public projects. This situation is vastly different. The farmer can reduce the rate of fertiliser application. Fencing off does not reduce the high levels of nitrogen in cows piss that on light gravelly soils simply penetrates the subsoils and enters acquifers. Land use must be appropraite to the soil types. The deer industry sorted the situation out years ago.

Rowntree. If a landowner has less land available to him obviously less fertiliser will be required. Also fewer stock will be able to be carried. The point remains, under this plan the government wants affected landowners to donate a ten metre wide strip of their land to the NZ public. This will only have any beneficial impact on rolling, clay based soils where run off travels laterally. On the light stony soils you refer to quite correctly a set back achieves very little as any undesirables enter the soil profile vertically. The basis of this plan is that the public wants it, therefore it must be a public good and therefore the public should contribute to the cost.

Should have read "public good"

The govt is not committed to Te Mana O te Wai. Hydro schemes are exempt from meeting water quality indicators under the govts proposal. In the Southland Waiau River catchment this has gutted the catchment community who have been fighting Meridian for approx 2years in the Environment Court. Hear Kim Hill interview community members as to what they are fighting for here

The community is now expected to shoulder the burden of mitigating the impact of the Power Scheme as best they can with just 5% of the river’s original flow. That burden will fall on everyone in the catchment except Meridian: ...

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