In July and August the Government released discussion documents proposing to make changes to the stock exclusion regulations in respect of the low slope map and the intensive winter grazing rules. These changes were in large part sparked by Federated Farmers, and others in TeamAg, continuing to lobby the Government to change the unworkable aspects of these regulations.
The government also released a discussion document outlining the proposed regulations that will implement freshwater farm plans.
Federated Farmers has made extensive submissions on all of these consultations (you can find them on our website). Feds Regional Policy Advisor Mike Campbell has put together these summaries of our stance on all three topics.
The low slope map
Beef cattle and deer that were not intensively grazed are excluded from waterways on land identified on “the low slope map” under the stock exclusion regulations. The original method for identifying land in the low slope map was to take an average slope of an entire land parcel and, if it was less than 10 degrees, identify it as a low slope land. The Government has proposed to change this method to be more granular, only identify slopes of less than 5 degrees and exclude all land above 500m or covered in tall tussock/depleted grassland.
Federated Farmers’ response is that, while these changes address some concerns, they still do not go far enough. Further, it would be impossible to establish a method of accurately identifying the land where the cost of exclusion of beef cattle and deer from waterways is proportional to the environmental benefit to be gained. Put simply, a “one size fits all” approach is simply not workable.
Instead, Federated Farmers has put forward that stock exclusion should be handled by regional councils to allow for regional variation. This will also allow regional councils to work with local farmers to establish where and how stock are then excluded from waterways, rather than having an unworkable regulation at national level that cannot address regional variation.
Intensive winter grazing
The intensive winter grazing regulations have caused headaches for farmers across the country. Introduced as part of the National Environmental Standard for Freshwater, these regulations set strict standards that farmers carrying out intensive winter grazing are required to meet without obtaining resource consent.
The Government has proposed loosening some of those conditions, which we support. In particular, Federated Farmers supports the proposal to:
- remove the requirement to re-sow by 1 October in favour of “as soon as practicable”;
- remove the arbitrary limits on pugging in favour of requiring “reasonably practicable steps” to manage pugging;
- amend the definition of “drain” to exclude sub-surface drains;
- change from using a ‘mean’ slope to using a ‘maximum’ slope (with Federated Farmers requested the maximum slope be increased to 15-20 degrees);
- include a new condition protecting critical source areas, provided the protection only extends to landscape features that has a direct pathway for sediment/contaminants to a waterway and excludes subsurface drain; and
- defer the IWG regulations until November 2022.
However, there are still some areas where the intensive winter grazing regulations require further work. Federated Farmers opposed the treatment of subsurface drains as critical source areas. In addition, Federated Farmers sought:
- the ‘area limit’ be adjusted from 50 hectares to 100 hectares (or 10% of the farm, whichever is greater);
- that the FW-FP pathway is clarified and available at scale before consent is necessary;
- the full involvement of primary sector representatives, including Federated Farmers, in the preparation and working groups associated with any Guidance Material on intensive winter grazing;
- a review of the ‘reference period’ to ensure there is no unintended consequences of the area of farm that is used;
- a review of the restricted discretionary consent matters of discretion;
- an amendment of the definition of ‘annual forage crop’ to ensure arable crops are not captured as part of the intensive winter grazing conditions;
- an amendment to the definition of ‘pastoral land use’ to ensure grazing of livestock on arable crops does not limit arable growers under the N Cap.
Freshwater farm plan regulations
The Government has consulted on regulations to give effect to freshwater farm plans, which form part of the recent changes to the Resource Management Act 1991. In essence, the proposed regulations will establish what is required in a freshwater farm plan, and how they will be implemented and administered.
Our key concern is that there is insufficient detail in the discussion document to really understand what is being proposed and, where it does seem to be clear, it appears these plans will be overly burdensome on farmers. Freshwater farm plans need to be a workable alternative to the ordinary consenting regime, simply implement good management principles, and not result in a double layer of regulation. Further, the Government must provide a way for existing farm plans to meet the requirements of freshwater farm plans without binding (and therefore penalizing) farmers who have aspirational farm goals. There also appears to be too much power given to certifiers and auditors will little recourse if they get it wrong, and issues with how freshwater farm plans will be rolled out.
Ultimately, Federated Farmers has told the Government that freshwater farm plans should:
- be owned and directed by the farmer;
- utilise existing farm plan regimes to the greatest extent possible;
- recognise that each farm is unique, provide farmers the flexibility to adapt and to choose how to achieve the required environmental outcomes (from risk assessment to consideration of mitigations);
- not be unduly burdensome (time, resource, cost to complete);
- not require farmers to disclose confidential data/information about their farming operation;
- provide for staged implementation managed by risk and to take into account limitations with resources (for example lack of certifiers).