Unintended consequence: Farmers who have invested in long term fresh water remediation feel thrown under the bus with grandfathering in the Essential Freshwater policies, and now those who didn't are in a easier position to comply

Unintended consequence: Farmers who have invested in long term fresh water remediation feel thrown under the bus with grandfathering in the Essential Freshwater policies, and now those who didn't are in a easier position to comply

Sheep and beef farmers are generally in agreement with the principles behind the Ministry for the Environment’s discussion document on the national direction for essential freshwater, but there is substantial unease about the finer details.

Three key areas of concern, identified by Beef + Lamb New Zealand, are proposed restrictions on farm systems to current emissions levels, land use and farm systems termed grandparenting, compliance costs well in excess of forecasts, and the real potential for sheep and beef farmers to be put out of business.  

The sheep and beef sector, as distinct from dairy and other land uses, is particularly vulnerable to these threats because the government’s proposals penalise those farm types with lower emissions, especially those who have already achieved significant progress in introducing sustainable systems.

Rick Burke, Chairman of Farmers for Positive Change, a group of some 3000 drystock and hill country farmers, claims the grandparenting approach, especially the capping of on-farm nitrate leaching to current levels, completely fails to acknowledge the distinction between heavy and low emitters. The F4PC group has pushed back against the Waikato Regional Council’s Plan Change 1 process, instead proposing a bottom up approach working across sub-catchments. A previous winner of the Ballance Farm Environment Award, Burke’s farming system has been completely redesigned over 20 years to incorporate new planting, fencing and rotational grazing which has entailed slightly higher nitrogen use, but resulted in infinitely higher productivity and significantly improved environmental outcomes.

Burke says sheep and beef farming has an exciting future and farmers are eager to unlock serious profitability while pursuing environmental improvements. F4PC is keen to see farmers in each sub-catchment given a fair target to achieve via a series of 10 year milestones out to 2050, but a rushed one size fits all approach has no place in reaching the ultimate goal.

If central government persists with its top down model when bringing the Essential Freshwater policy into law, it means environmentally sustainable farms would be restricted to the lower levels of nitrogen already achieved than their less diligent neighbours and Burke is adamant some farmers will be driven out of business. The net result would be a dramatic hit to land values which would effectively be, in his words, the ‘theft of natural capital.’ This could well result in affected farmers taking a class action against the government.

However according to Burke, the F4PC group agree with the principles of the Action for Healthy Waterways and are keen to make the necessary changes to comply, with the significant exception of the grandparenting provisions which would prevent extensive and low impact farms being able to adjust their systems.

When releasing the Essential Freshwater discussion document, Environment Minister, David Parker, gives the strong impression of being hellbent on speedy implementation with a short consultation period, since lengthened by two weeks, at the busiest time of the farming year. This timetable is driven by the government’s determination to introduce the new policy early in the New Year, no doubt as a result of it being an election year.

I have listened to Parker’s comments both on the radio and at a consultation meeting which give the strong impression of a man on a mission, unlikely to be diverted from his chosen course of action. He sounds eminently reasonable when making the point this is a process that will take decades and nothing will come into force before 2025, while emphasising the importance of agriculture to the New Zealand economy. But at no point have I heard any indication he is prepared to listen to farmers’ concerns about intensification and grandparenting with its dire impact on efficient and sustainable producers.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor, also sounding totally reasonable, sticks very closely to the party line, repeatedly saying that the farmers that are “doing the right thing” won’t be affected by the proposals, while the sheep and beef farmers I have spoken to think it’s the opposite and those who have been doing the right thing will be the most affected.

The sub-catchment approach through regional councils is much more in line with the Auditor General’s just released report on Managing Freshwater Quality which states ‘there is not enough information about freshwater at a national level to prioritise efforts on a national basis’. Auditor General John Ryan recommends the Ministry for the Environment take the leadership role, working with regional councils and others, presumably unitary authorities, to make the improvements needed to ensure the information is collated and used consistently across the country. It will be interesting to see whether Parker recognises the logic of this argument which can’t be accused of bias, unlike farming groups who will inevitably be tainted by the suspicion of self-interest.

What the government appears unwilling to recognise if it insists on the blanket approach to the freshwater question is the disproportionate impact on sheep and beef farming. Local Government New Zealand’s Sector Water Subgroup published its advisory report on the Essential Freshwater proposal in July and found the cost-effectiveness of nutrient reduction policies was questionable, with other measures such as riparian planting likely to more effective. Modelling carried out in the Waikato-Waipa catchment found drystock farming land use would decline by 68%, dairy farming by 13%, while forestry would increase by 160%, a massive redistribution of resources. The annual cost of meeting the revised targets was estimated at $100 million or around 11% of total profits derived from land use in the catchment, let alone the horrific human cost.

The overall message for the government, especially Minister Parker, is it is preferable to proceed cautiously towards a goal which all parties accept as desirable rather than rushing to introduce blunt policy instruments which threaten to destroy one of New Zealand’s most important sectors.


Current schedule and saleyard prices are available in the right-hand menu of the Rural section of this website. This article was first publsihed in Farmers Weekly. It is here with permission.

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"infinitely higher productivity"

Really, they achieved infinite productivity on a finite planet?

The usual cautionary tale of consequences, predictable if a bottom-up view is espoused, but riven with flaws, actionable, and with severe effects on rural well-being if the top-down, one-size-fits-all approach is used. Unfortunately, the latter seems what the Gubmint is wedded to, and this being the Year of Delivery (of a slink lamb....) and next year being 'let's promise the suckaz anything to get us re-elected', it's Full Steam Ahead and Damn the Torpedoes (Dam being wrongthink now....)

Can activists have a constituency?
Or is it a license to self indulge, then shame the folk into compliance.

Areas are so diverse, that local answers are appropriate.

Question: how to convince the current government of the value of diversity and how to encourage them to trust these very local and diverse communities.

Here's a thought. All around the country roads are being damaged via slips. The latest biggie is SH 3 which is going to costs millions and months, probably years to repair. The logical cause was the erosion of this area due to the absence of bush cover i.e farming practices on highly slip prone country.

On the East Coast Hikurangi Forestry has pleased guilty re the damage caused by their forestry activities in recent flooding.

Is it time we called these farmers into account for the movement of these hillsides onto our roads (when the cause is provable) ? Or should the road user pay?

It wasn't the farmers who milled the bush. That would be the loggers, sawmills and intermediaries who supplied the incessant timber demand from the cities..... Required reading: Kauri to Radiata - Origin and expansion of the timber industry of New Zealand

They are the current custodians and are continually cropping the regrowth - so I don't think that would be a defense.

Lucky the bush was removed, otherwise there would be huge amounts of vegetation mixed into the slips, which are of course coming down as the road has usually cut the toe off a hill. So the obvious remedy is for the road to follow the contuor with no cuts.

Missing the point here. IF it is established that the farming practices are at fault, then should they be paying?
I'm not saying they are, but posing the question. IF they are, should they be held to account - just as the forestry companies are as the guys that start a fire in error are?

How about if its established that the roads put in after the land was cleared weren't fit for purpose, engineered and constructed correctly or put in the right place?

Rastus, Some regional councils have rules that don't allow forestry on land that is erosion prone. I heard recently that one of the regions currently being planted in forestry is one area that should not be planted due to soils being erosion prone when planted in trees. But its the domain of a certain politician that is vociferously promoting the planting of trees. Oh well, virtue signalling at any cost is what this government seems to be about. So long as it looks good on the world stage........

I would challenge the SH3 slip is the biggest currently.
https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/rural/2019/10/incredible-drone-footage-ca...

Yep. It's close to a write off as the same problems exist along most of its length - fix one part up, then next week another goes. And with minimal traffic I bet the cost benefit analysis is one big fat negative. This is almost another Kaikoura, but the destination and importance as a link is just not up there.

I cant believe your ignorance. Those farms will pay large rates. The trucks and 4wds which service the farms will pay huge ruc and fuel taxes. The export receipts from those farms will be huge. Etc etc.
Do you think all we do is squat on this land and twiddle our thumbs. No. We make money for this country. In return we need roads to get our stuff to market. Basic economics 101. If it was all native bush, you and I would be running around in grass skirts as we couldnt afford our chinese cotton singlets

Quite clearly some land use implemented; including use of water is unsustainable.

The key issue here is water, and both central and regional government have been asleep at the wheel; while letting their mates to establish unsustainable enterprises.

The challenge ahead is now to remove these unsustainable practise, or at least get them to pay for the damage these practices are getting away with. A possible solution to the problem could be by the central government allocating water based on soil type rather than present use. This allocation could come for free, however anything above that allocation comes at a royalty cost.

While I accept this royalty cost (over and above sustainable use) could put some land owners under financial pressure, central government could manage this by way of a preferential encumbrance over the title called upon when onsold.

This idea would deliver long term sustainably, and capture those that have exploited past loopholes or corrupt politicians; especially those who are draining the water aquafiers for free presently.

Yes Parker has said that it will take decades by fails to mention or explain why they have:
"The Government has three objectives:
1. Stop further degradation of New Zealand’s freshwater resources and start making
immediate improvements so that water quality is materially improving within five years."
refer p8 Action for Healthy waterways doc. No explanation of 'materially' is given.

The Regional Sector commentary of Essential Freshwater Proposals is the most pragmatic of all additional reports. https://www.mfe.govt.nz/sites/default/files/media/Fresh%20water/regional...

Freshwater ag proposals appear very dairy centric, however by going after the dairy industry the collateral damage and potentially most affected over all, are the non dairy sectors of sheep & beef, and in some regions arable (cropping), and vegetable growers. A non dairy farmer asked at a meeting if he currently does 20ha of cropping and the neighbour does 20ha of cropping, what happens if he was to buy the neighbours farm and run them as one. Would he be able to crop 40ha across the combined farm as there would be no change to the total area cropped? The answer given by MfE was "No, you would have to stick to 20ha, as it is per farm and your original farm area stands." Really????
Damien O'Connor has said publicly that he doesn't agree with exiting fences having to be taken down and shifted out and urged farmers to submit on the 5m fencing buffer. Are there cracks in the govt cabinet with this proposal?

The government is vitrual signalling with this proposal and associated NES. MfE admitted at meetings that no economic or social impact studies have been undertaken - so much for a 'Wellbeing govt". The breakdown of costs they have applied to farmer costs to implement this proposal can only be described as comical as they are so far out compared to reality.
It is going to be interesting to see what, if any, impact NZ First will have on getting some pragmatism in to the proposal.

The elephant in the room for the majority of New Zealanders, I believe is the almost total lack on urban engagement on the Planning for successful cities, proposal. https://www.mfe.govt.nz/consultations/nps-urbandevelopment. At the public meeting I attended in a small city, where this was up for discussion, not one question was raised in relation to it. Potential impacts on the pocket of urban NZ is significant. Submissions on that closes 10 Oct.

This is a bit of an upper-deck discussion about who will dry off the deckchairs for tomorrow,

The problemm is that tomorrow wil be very different - no ship still afloat.

We should really be adressing th morph to many more people per acre of food production, emptying-out cities, triage of infrastructure, collapse of global finance, including investment assumptions.

My guess is that some parts of 'the environment' will get a whole lot better, but some will be hammered. And current systems - both financial and social - will be looked at in the rear-view mirror with wonderment. And perhaps anger. Perhaps we need to have a think about the guts of the article (and some of the comments) which seems to be about apportioning blame. Read: cost. Perhaps we need to be past that.

pdk Environmental rules are very human-centric. Whats the number one indicator for the government? Native fish? No, swimmability, an entirely human-centric indicator. Why do we need to be able to swim in a river? Why can't humans be restricted to swimming pools and beaches - oops the latter ones are frequently contaminated by humans. The kids on our farm swim in our waterways on farm. I know of other rural kids swimming in waterways that are classed as 'Unsafe to swim' purely because of turbidity. Our local iwi don't have swimmability on their list of aspirations at all. But they do have mahinga kai. The thing about native fish and general ecological species, is that they don't require the level of nutrient indicators that humans have decided they need. (Check out the ecological life in Taranaki waterways that are fenced off, have higher nutrient readings than is considered good, and also have an abundant ecology). They can live in more modified/degraded waterways than introduced species such as trout. Oh, but wait we need our waterways to be able to sustain trout, not too worried about prioritising native fish. Another human-centric indicator. If we were serious about replenishing native fish supplies we would place a 1-3 moratorium on whitebait harvesting in those areas where native fish stocks are low.
Yes cost is also human-centric but as our iwi leader re-iterated at the Regional Council Environment Awards last night the environment is also he tangata, he tangata, he tangata. They value 'community' also. That is not to be confused with individual human wants, not needs, like swimmability.

The emptying out of cities will create other environmental issues - you only have to look at QLDC and Central Otago areas to see the issues they are facing due to population increase pressures. We don't need to address the morph etc - it will happen organically anyway. As to the apportioning of blame - significant change is like a grief cycle. One of the first things people often do is get angry, look to blame etc, but then as they move through the cycle that changes. Rural NZ is not just concerned for their individual self, but also for their communities, which is something I wouldn't expect a non farmer to understand. ;-)

Watch this if you haven't already seen it - it is a lesson in the power of nature over time. NZ start to be seen at around 240million years ago http://dinosaurpictures.org/ancient-earth#600

What we have now is a generation that is facing increasing anxiety issues mainly because their elders are implying they are doomed, instead of giving them positive messages like saying we will do our best, but we also believe in your ability to adapt and make changes that will be needed, as have other generations before you. And then giving the younger generation the skills to be resilient and adaptable in a world whose future cannot be predicted - however much you may believe you know the future, you are limited by the knowledge that we have as a society today.

Farmers (of all sectors) are often heard to say 'in order to be green we must first be in the black' - the reference to a degree of profitability.

I can’t see much reference to urban waste water systems, is this subject being carefully avoided?

pws check out from page 57 onwards https://www.mfe.govt.nz/sites/default/files/media/Fresh%20water/action-f... Because it's buried in what many see as an ag document it is possibly easily missed

Submissions on the above document will be received until 5pm 31 October. So there is still time to submit.

I get the impression most city folk think that their opinions will have little sway and that water and wastewater will be managed and the cost paid by them. However, given the underinvestment in infrastructure in previous decades perhaps a lot more interest should be taken, and that not only in short term "keep my rates the same!" shouting.

The current Environment Minister has blocked the creation of the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary to sate the demands of the fishing industry, denied the construction of renewable energy on the West Coast to appease the tourist industry and advocates for NZ becoming an international air hub so we can get more planes to fly further. Environmental concerns getting addressed do not seem to be a high priority for the Environment Minister. F4PC would be better to lobby directly, instead of on the basis of environmental achievement.

Rastus, SH3 or the Parapara as it is locally known, traverses some of the most difficult country to road in NZ. That blue colour that can be seen in the right foreground of the photo of the slip is called papa, which is a form of mudstone. Typically it is very soft and given to fissures known as wet-backs, which allow water to penetrate. Frost then causes the water to expand, which widens the fissure, which lets in more water.... Pretty much the whole of the road from Wanganui to Raetihi is through papa country which receives about 60" of rainfall annually. Slips go with the territory, although technically speaking the one in question should more properly be called a slump. All that Parapara country has been slipping and slumping for ever, bush or no bush.

Heh, facts versus rants......

Good explanation Wee Willy. Ratsguts seems to think the whole Whanganui area should be shut down. Its been a while since I drove through there but I remember it as linking very productive country.

Allan, I had a convo with a rural banker today. An intelligent rant on the future cost of our food followed, if these regulations and other proposals come to fruition. (It wasnt me expressing my opinion.) I was a bit shocked at how concerned this person was.
This government is biting off its nose to spite its face. Except I guess its the poor that will be spited. Yes unintended consequences. They are fools.