Southland Federated Farmers Vice-President Bernadette Hunt is confident that recommended changes to proposed winter grazing rules put to the government this week will work for the environment as well as farmers.
“We believe freshwater outcomes will be improved by the recommendations [the Southland Advisory Group] have made because they are very outcome-focused and backed by science,” Bernadette said.
Following a meeting with Environment Minister David Parker and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor in September, the group was formed and asked to look at the implementation from May next year of the intensive winter grazing rules within the new National Environmental Standards for Freshwater.
Bernadette was a member of the group, which also included two other farmers, and staff from Beef + Lamb NZ, DairyNZ, Fish and Game and Environment Southland. They have worked together on finding practical solutions to some of the issues raised with implementing the regulations across the country.
The group agreed that farm plans are the future for managing freshwater. While this important tool is developed further, the group recommended that work starts immediately on a step that can be used in the interim – an intensive winter grazing module. This would enable farmers who can’t meet the required conditions to identify the specific risks on their property, and show alternative good management practices they are implementing to mitigate the impacts on freshwater.
It could be an app or a paper-based system. It would help ensure protection against sediment run-off and offer farmers security while they wait for farm environment plans to be developed, Bernadette said. It also avoids the need for costly resource consent applications.
Plenty of concerns have been raised by farmers around the rules around pugging, and the requirement to replant fields by October 1 (or in Otago and Southland, November 1).
“We agreed with those concerns, and recommended those be removed and replaced with much more effects-based requirements based around protection of critical source areas,” Bernadette said.
Critical source areas are hot spots for contaminant loss. They are often small, low-lying parts of farms such as gullies and swales where runoff accumulates in high concentration. Runoff from these CSAs can carry sediment, bacteria and nutrients to waterways.
“It’s widely accepted that not to graze these areas in winter. We’re suggesting that’s a condition that has to be met, or the farmer must show alternative ways of mitigating that sediment loss,” Bernadette said.
Environment Southland chairman Nicol Horrell said he was very pleased the group has worked so well together and has come up with a package of recommendations to make the regulations more practical to implement for farmers while not diminishing the protection they give to waterways.
“The group has worked at pace and come up with some very practical suggestions. I am optimistic this report and recommendations will land well with Ministers and officials,” Horrell said.
In their report, the group notes that improvements are needed to intensive winter grazing practices – intensive winter grazing, when done poorly, poses risks to waterways.
“There is low tolerance (in the community) for farmers who are not improving their intensive winter grazing practice as they are seen to be ‘letting the side down’ and bringing the practice into disrepute,” the report said.
In working through the detail, the group looked into the intent of the rules and in a few cases identified practical challenges with the implementation and potential perverse outcomes.
The advisory group will present their recommendations to the national Freshwater Implementation Group and Ministers are seeking advice from officials before determining any next steps.
- Download the Advisory Group’s full report, here.
- Read the response of Ministers Parker and O’Connor, here.