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Angus Kebbell summarises what is required by the new freshwater management policies, and has a few thoughts from a farming perspective

Angus Kebbell summarises what is required by the new freshwater management policies, and has a few thoughts from a farming perspective

The Government has set out new essential freshwater regulatory requirements and a couple of things grab my attention.

The rules are set out across a range of regulations covering stock exclusion from waterbodies, rules around managing at-risk farming practices like winter grazing, land use change, and new limits for water bodies.

The new rules will be implemented by both central government and regional councils. The new rules in the stock exclusion regulations and National Environmental Standards for winter grazing, stock exclusion, land use change etc. will apply from 3 September 2020, and will be phased in over time.

The changes to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management will be implemented by regional councils as they review and, if required, update their regional and catchment plans. Regional councils will have four years to work with their communities on putting into place the new policy requirements and another two years to have these operative.


Winter grazing

Grazing stock on a winter forage crop is permitted where the following standards can be achieved. Hill country farms (which is land over 10 degrees slope) and farms which are unable to meet the permitted activity standards will need a resource consent by 1 May 2021.

To be permitted the following standards must be met:

• No more than 50ha or more than 10 percent of the property, whichever is the greatest – for example a property of 1000ha, the threshold will be 100ha, whereas on a property of 300ha, the threshold is 50ha.

• The cropped paddock that has a mean slope of 10 degrees or less.

• The crop is set back by 5 metres or more from waterways.

• Pugging is not deeper than 20cm. Pugging covers no more than 50 percent of the paddock, regardless of depth.

• Paddocks are resown by 1 October or 1 November if in the Otago or Southland regions. All winter cropping needs to be resown as soon as practicable. OR

• The activity has a Certified Freshwater Farm Plan. If consent is required then it will only be granted by the regional council if the area of winter forage crop is not more than the greatest extent of area under winter forage crop from 2014–2019.


From 2023 existing irrigation consent holders who take 5-20 litres of water/second or more must:

• measure their water use every 15 minutes,

• store their records, and

• electronically submit their records to their council every day.

For some irrigators this is a big change from their existing practices. National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management sets out what regional councils have to do in managing land and freshwater health, which includes working with their communities. Regional councils will have 3 years to have regional plans in place which give effect and a further 2 years to have the rules in force.

There will be new mandatory values for freshwater such as freshwater ecological health, and numerical freshwater quality bottom lines which must be achieved. A decision was made to not introduce a new bottom line for nitrogen to manage ecosystem health. That being said it has been indicated that this will be revisited following the general election and once further scientific advice is received.

New bottom lines are now in place for sediment which will have implications for hill country farming in particular. Regional councils have been given the flexibility to set Dissolved Reactive Phosphorus limits in their plans based on their specific regional situation and reduce these over time in partnership with their communities, instead of adhering to a across-country bottom line.

Are these changes practical?

A lot of these changes are impractical and I can already see many farmers will be non-compliant straight off the bat. And who is expected to pay for all the increased costs to achieve someone in Wellington's target? That’s right, the farmer.

Thirty to 40 years ago most farmers goals were to increase production of the land which meant intensification and land use change. Wind the clock forward to today, the farmer has a different mind set, both through regulation and the farmer's desire to leave the property in a better state, and indeed the environment, in which they live. Sustainability is right at fore of their minds. When will farmers get the recognition they deserve? And when will the foot come off policy makers throttle? With land prices continuing to increase and costs and compliance continuing to pile on, margins are continuing to get squeezed.

Indeed we all want improved biodiversity and an improved footprint, but we need workable and realistic targets to work towards and I am just not seeing policy makers and farmers on the same page currently.. 

To get the full story listen to or download the podcast above.

Angus Kebbell is the Producer at Tailwind Media. You can contact him here.

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The last paragraph shows an interesting reality. Although these change are costing more and margins squeezed land prices keep going up. Someone thinks its more valuable and they can make it work as they are paying for it in land. It may be cheaper money but from what I can see getting money to buy rural land is very hard.
Farming needs to realise that doing what they did or are doing is not going to last. I sometimes feel some farmers just want everyone to go away and leave me to do what I do. Many farmers aren't doing this and are changing. I believe the answer is you have take ownership of things that the electorate wants.
1. Animal welfare - most people eat meat and realise the animals will die - they just want them to be well looked after on the way through - calving in mud/ungrassed paddocks does not meet this Im sorry - doing this just digs your grave a bit deeper each time - see the press in the last weeks.
2. They want clean water - again a few metres fences from the stream doesn't do it. Its clear you really need 5m - yes you lose land but you get a better outcome. Break feeding on steeper slopes and see all the soil run into the stream in a higher rain event - it will rain hard at times so you can't do this. Again the cries of protest followed by regional council reports showing 30% of farms surveyed broke the rules there now. Can you be trusted?? followed by I don't agree with these laws and will ignore the law comments - well I don't believe that I can't walk across your farm when I want to so we will all do it - what next!!
Farmers need to change 180 degrees - own the changes and welcome them and show enthusiasm (as many are) and really have input. This is what your CUSTOMERS want - those strange, annoying people who actually pay you.

Angus and Jack Lumber
Please show me the evidence that land “ keeps increasing in value “ ?
Quite the opposite is the reality

I’m using Angus report numbers.

Good article except land prices are most definitely not going up, and have not gone up for about 5 years now.
Maybe some wishful thinking there by many people though.
The exception is of course town fringe land for development which is being swallowed up at an ever increasing rate.

Maybe you mean “have not” gone up.
You are right their have been no capital gains on dairy for at least 5years probably more.
Although with the massive amount of QE money printing going on, perhaps in a couple of years that cash will stick too farm assets too.

I wonder what the definition of a waterway is ? A natural river or creek only , or is it any drain on a farm ?
I would think drainage systems could be diverted to a man made wetland or pond system , to catch sediment , and convert excess nitrogen to feed via reed type plants. I guess this is where the freshwater plan would come onto play , if you can show such systems are in place , you can exceed the limits.

The definition of a water way is "a continually or intermittently flowing body of freshwater that includes streams and modified watercourses." So basically anywhere there might be/is water flowing. This is how ridiculous the laws are - technically my drive is a "waterway"as during heavy rain, water flows down it!! You can't alter/divert any "waterway" without RMA consent, and you can't harvest waterway based forage, unless you want to do it by hand which is obviously impractical

I am surprised there is no size definition on what constitutes a waterway.
The current local body rules governing my river are surprisingly generous. You can harvest up to 50 m3of vegetation , and the same of gravel , without consent . you can use machinery , providing care is taken to not drop oil etc , and they are removed when not in use.
At the moment I remove willow branches by hand , which is hard work .

This definition from Dairy nz for what would be the old standard .
"All stock must be excluded from any permanently flowing rivers, streams, drains and springs, more than a metre wide and 30cm deep by May 2017."

Those local body rules are very generous to be sure, are the regional council rules the same? Regional Councils are responsible for waterways

My mistake , it is of course the Waikato regional council Plan, section 4.3.7 for gravel , section 4.3.9 for vegetation. Theres no actual volume limit for vegetation , but plenty of conditions for it to be a permitted activity.

HaHa.. yeah.. Those RC guys have a habit of throwing a spanner in. I have a stream on my boundary that I pump out of for stock, irrigation and household water. I've been told on multiple occasions to never let the consent lapse because I'd never get another as lenient. It's an old consent that allows for 300m3/day as long as the abstraction rate stays below 5 lps. Needless to say the consent fees are paid well in advance

When will farmers get the recognition they deserve? And when will the foot come off policy makers throttle?

I think the problem started with the industry lobby group pushing for self-regulation under the Dairying and Clean Streams Accord 2003;

And then emerging proof that the industry itself might have been falsely reporting on progress. And then a lot more data coming out regarding mounting/continuing water quality decline.

So basically we had 15+ years under that self-regulation regime and little/no measurable improvement (combined with further intensification).

Hence the continued pressure on regulators to regulate.

And here we are.

Kate, I agree there were , and still are some bad apples in the industry. In an ideal world Fonterra would have refused to pick up the milk and the recalcitrant offender would have been drummed out of the industry. Unfortunately Fonterra is not able to refuse milk supply (under the old DIRA) A lot of the nutrient loads showing up are the result of historical practices going back multiple decades. Even Taupo under the Nitrogen Cap which saw many farms retired still saw increasing Nitrate levels for a time post the implementation. The problem of deNitrification is very complex and has many moving parts. It's not the requirement to change that is the problem.. it's the speed required.


Are these changes practical?

For many, not given their current stocking levels, I suspect.

Certainly not practical, if as some have stated, they simply aren't going to change.
Having listened to some of the whinging in the last week that seemed to amount to "we have a right to pollute or we won't make a profit" I'm over it. I don't think farmers are collectively as big a problem or as bad going forward as is usually portrayed but I'm over it. No you can't just winter your cows in that shitty mess you call winter grazing, that's NOT sustainable practice. No you can't run 4 cows/ha and ignore the N leeching, it's NOT sustainable.
Yes it will mean some farms/areas will not be able to continue and current farm use may have to change but them it probably never should have become that in the first place. And maybe, just maybe, like houses, they really aren't worth the current pricing.

it probably never should have become that in the first place.

Yes. I'd like to see incentives/subsidies for wetland restoration - drain removal, land retirement and proactive ecosystem restoration. Payment for ecosystem services.

I still think it is possible to manage the riparian margin for production of fodder. Tagagaste , japanese willow , and poplar species are all good fodder sources, especially in the dry times. Stock will eat many natives, (unfortunately for those of us trying to grow them in unfenced areas).

Those are all good examples solardb (you forgot miscanthus), the issue is - how do you harvest it in sufficient volumes when the fodder is fenced off? Remember we're not talking a few beefies here but a production herd of 100s.. it can't be done viably that's why many riparian areas just turn into "weed banks", full of blackberry,thistles,yarrow (as in the photo) and other undesirables.

Yeah , some of my mates point out its alot of work to harvest, but I respond look how much work goes into hay or silage. At least the feed is basically free in the fodder method part.
I'm working (when i can after my day job, headlamp essential for lifestyle block owners), on mechanical harvest methods, but i am envisioning machinery similar to hedgerow and shetler belt trimming. the collection of the slash is the undeveloped part. but there are similar situations, where b;owers etc are used . I think its possible , just wether commercially viable is the question. I've even done gorse through a mower, then pellet machine, the cows eat it.

solardb, it doesn't matter if the fodder is free.. it can't be harvested on the wrong side of a fence, pure and simple. Hay (even conventional bales) and silage especially is pretty low in labour requirements. A case in point - my partner and I can cut,bale (me) and stack (us) 500 conventional bales in 2 days Baleage or Haylage can be done by one person with the right equipment. If you're feeding gorse to your animals - all I can say is they must be pretty hungry. Bottom line is the riparian strips are lost land to the land owner. If I had manmade drains on my property I'd culvert the lot of them and reclaim the grazing.

For many farmers its the call of the native birds returning and creating 'biodiversity corridors' that is as much an attraction in regards to riparian planting. ;-)

Kate - when you have time watch these - there's not a dairy farmer among them. Dairy grazers, maybe, but neither of these farmers are dairy farmers. To explain the first link - Damien O'Connor got the original rule around 'no hoof prints over more than 50% of the paddock' changed to no more than 5cm deep hoof prints. But that was AFTER David Parker announced the new rules and it was explained how impractical the original rule was. If only the govt had had DairyNZ around the table they could have warned about a lot of the issues being raised now. But they were excluded. O'Connor has said there will be more 'tweaks' to the rules.

Stock exclusion:
Re-sowing dates: