By Gavin Forrest, Federated Farmers GM Policy & Advocacy
Federated Farmers and other Team Ag members have been working hard behind the scenes seeking to find changes to a significant number of implementation problems with the Essential Freshwater regulations passed in August last year.
We all want to maintain water quality where it is good and to seek improvements where it is not. But interventions and initiatives need to be practical and achievable and target the actual not the imagined cause of the “problems”.
It is universally recognised that the Essential Freshwater Regulations have significant flaws and parts of the regulations are unworkable. Feds can agree with much of what Cabinet agreed to at a high level – in what is termed “policy decisions” – but importantly, significant parts of the regulations are not consistent with Cabinet’s policy decisions. The stock exclusions regulations are a stark case in point. While we generally agree with what Cabinet said they wanted to achieve, and the circumstances the stock exclusion requirement should apply to, the regulations and the low slope map missed the mark by a country mile.
So where are we at? Feds has provided the Government with 56 pages of what’s wrong and potential solutions. A senior Ministry for the Environment official recently told a meeting of provincial Federated Farmer leaders that they were “working through the Federated Farmers document.”
In the meantime Feds, along with other Team Ag members, have been working on the most urgent matters first:
- The Southland Winter Grazing Advisory Group, of which Federated Farmers was a member, produced a document for the Minister in mid-December 2020 with recommendations on what should be changed to make the intensive winter grazing requirements in the regulations workable and targeted at farm practices that will achieve better outcomes. As a minimum the impractical pugging requirements and bizarre resowing date need to be deleted. Ministers are expected to announce their decisions soon.
- We are working with officials on how the stock exclusion regulations can be matched up with what Cabinet intended – that is excluding intensively farmed cattle, deer and pigs from streams on low slope land. We have reached the point where we are struggling to see how the low slope map can be fixed and it may have to go. In the meantime farmers should talk to their farm advisors and regional councils (who may provide financial assistance) about the logical situations where livestock should be excluded. What was in the old Dairy Clean Streams Accord is a useful guide – streams a stride wide and a red band deep where cattle and deer are farmed to a similar stocking intensity as a dairy platform or grazed behind a wire is a good start. We have some breathing space as the problematic requirements for beef farmers don’t kick in until June 2025
- We are working with officials on making necessary changes to the onerous reporting requirements, such as for all new and repaired culverts that were supposed to be about not blocking fish passageways but ended up catching all culverts that water flows through to a waterway at any time.
- We have some movement from Ministers and officials away from an unjustified focus on Nitrogen levels in waterways – hopefully there is now a realization that seeking low DIN (Dissolved Inorganic Nitrogen) levels in water has little relationship with water quality and would decimate agricultural and horticultural production, quickly followed by rural and provincial communities and then the nation as a whole.
- Last but not least are the issues arising from the raft of new terms and concepts in the regulations that no one knows what they mean. We believe a significant number of these ambiguous and/or inconsistent provisions in the regulations will need to be fixed either by the Government or by the Courts. The first one of these court cases off the block is government officials using the High Court to determine whether the part of the NES [the Resource Management (National Environmental Standards for Freshwater) Regulations 2020] applies to saltwater wetlands. The Department of Conservation thinks that a freshwater regulation should apply to saltwater – really? Feds has asked that officials look to quickly fix the large number of drafting problems with the regulations and avoid wasting huge amounts of time and money in the High Court on determining what Cabinet really meant in the first place.