The proposed plan change covers all land in the Waikato River and Waipa River catchments. New rules to reduce sediment, bacteria, nitrogen and phosphorus entering water bodies are already in place and may be changed further through council hearings due to start in December 2018. Existing rules in the Waikato Regional Plan continue to apply, e.g. farm dairy effluent rules, earthwork rules and point-source discharge rules (urban areas and industry).
The plan change for the next 10 years is the first step to achieve the Vision and Strategy/Te Ture Whaimana o Te Awa o Waikato of making the river swimmable and viable for food collection along the entire length of the river. The Vision and Strategy was adopted by the Government as part of Treaty Settlement legislation.
What's happening now
Submissions on the submissions are open until 17 September. DairyNZ will make further submissions on behalf of dairy farmers to the Healthy Rivers Wai Ora Plan Change 1 for the Waikato and Waipa River catchments.
We will be looking for good ideas that we want to talk to the Council hearings panel about, but which we didn’t put in our original submission. DairyNZ policy staff use this general criterion when assessing whether or not to make a further submission on one of the 1100 or so original submissions. They look at the summary of submissions on the council website, and assess what changes others have asked for in their original submissions to Plan Change 1 or Variation 1. By putting in a further submission to support or oppose the other submitter’s original submission, we are able to cover that topic in our evidence to the hearings panel.
The council closing date for further submissions is 17 September. There is a guide about how to make a further submission and all relevant documents are on the Waikato Regional Council website.
Farm Environment Plans
Farm Environment Plans (FEP) are a key part of the proposed plan change and properties over 20ha in size will generally require a FEP. Plans are tailored to each property and will identify risk areas on-farm and how landowners will manage and reduce sediment, bacteria, nitrogen and phosphorus within a specific time frame.
What you can do now
Make sure you have nitrogen-relevant farm information that will become part of your Nitrogen Reference Point. The council has produced a template and a guide and will also run workshops to help you prepare. To download the template and the guide and see the proposed dates for workshops click here.
FEPs will need to be signed off by a Certified Farm Environment Planner (CFEP). The council is in the process of certifying people and will make lists available. You can choose to get started on the template yourself. Farm Environment Plans may also be submitted through a Certified Industry Scheme. The council will make a list of certified industry providers available in due course.
Nitrogen Reference Point
All dairy farms will need a Nitrogen Reference Point (NRP). It is the highest annual nitrogen leaching loss in either the 2014/15 or 2015/16 financial year for the property and associated data, including the OVERSEER output file. Records will need to be kept and produced on request. Farmers will need this signed off by a certified nutrient advisor and have from 1 May 2020 to 30 November 2020 to provide council with their NRP.
What you can do now
Make sure you have good records for either 2014/15 or 2015/16. For information about what records you will need click here.
Buying and selling
If you are buying or selling in the Waikato/Waipa catchment and are wondering what Plan Change 1 means for you. As part of a sales transaction, important information will be required. You will need to prove what has happened on the farm in 2014/15 and 2015/16 benchmark years. Read the fact sheet here.
Purchasers need to ensure they have verified farm records as part of the due diligence process. In 2019 each farm will have a Nitrogen Reference Point allocated which must be adhered to. Read the fact sheet here.
DairyNZ is working with rural professionals and the Waikato Regional Council to ensure farm advisors are aware of the new rules. The Council website has summary pamphlets about other aspects of the Healthy Rivers Plan Change. Find out more here.
Another important rule to be aware of is the land use change rule which will require a resource consent. Read the fact sheet here.
Frequently asked questions
Where do I get information and find certified advisors with a good understanding of farm systems?
Developing Farm Environment Plans and Nitrogen Reference Points requires a certain level of farm systems experience. Waikato Regional Council (WRC) is working through the criteria in terms of qualifications and experience required for advisors who will be completing Farm Environment Plans and Nitrogen Reference Points. Names of accredited advisors will be posted on the WRC Healthy Rivers web page.
In the meantime, a Nutrient Management Adviser Certification Programme has been established to accredit nutrient management advisers in New Zealand.
For more information about the programme and a list of certified advisers click here.
Do I need legal advice?
As with any sale or purchase, we recommend that you undertake due diligence and contact your lawyers for independent advice on how the proposed plan change might affect any sale or purchase agreement.
How will the difference between current N loss and the 2019 Nitrogen Reference Point be calculated?
The nitrogen loss figure dairy farmers currently have from their nutrient advisor or milk supply company is the nitrogen leaching figure from the current version of Overseer.
The Nitrogen Reference Point to be used after 31 March 2019, will be the figure that farms must meet, and will be based on the version of Overseer available at that time. Therefore, the N loss figure used at present is not the definitive Nitrogen Reference Point for the farm, but rather an indicator.
To read more about Nitrogen Reference Points click here.
How will the Nitrogen Reference Point, and the information used to calculate it, be verified?
The information entered into Overseer to produce the nitrogen leaching figure will be based on data input methodology outlined by Waikato Regional Council in the plan change. Under the proposed plan, the WRC will use the NRP information supplied as a benchmark to work out the 75th percentile nitrogen leaching value for dairy farms.
Any industry scheme or consents will have quality control processes in place. A cross-section of Farm Environment and Nitrogen Reference Point plans will be audited.
How will non-compliance be dealt with?
Non-compliance will be dealt with in the same way it is for any other form of non-compliance e.g. effluent.
What happens if I want to intensify my farm system?
Where are the priority catchments and what are the development timeframes?
To see the Waikato Regional Council farm mapping tool click here.
This will show you which priority catchment you are in and the timeframes that you must meet. Note that if your farm is in the 75th percentile for nitrogen loss, then you are automatically in a priority one catchment.
Can 'off-setting' be used to manage overall N loss within a catchment?
Not under Plan Change 1. Instead, landowners can make adjustments within their own enterprise if it is in the sub-catchment. Council maps are available here. WRC defines ‘enterprise’ as one or more parcels of land held in single or multiple ownership to support the principle land use or land which the principle land use is reliant upon, and constitutes a single operating unit for the purposes of management. An enterprise is considered to be in a sub-catchment if more than 50 percent of that enterprise is within the sub-catchment.
For example, if you own two blocks of land and they are in the same sub-catchment, you can have a Nitrogen Reference Point which covers an enterprise.
At the moment, Healthy Rivers Plan Change 1 doesn’t have trading or off-setting rules that allow for one landowner to increase discharges if another property decreases by the same amount. This is an idea that some people think should be used in the future.
For more information on Healthy Rivers with information sheets and answers to frequently asked questions click here.
Useful links and documents
What's happened so far?
In September 2016, Waikato Regional Council voted to publicly notify the Proposed Waikato Regional Plan Change 1 – Waikato and Waipa Catchments.
The plan was developed using a collaborative process with iwi project partners, farming sector and community representatives, non-government organisations and council who have worked together to shape a solution.
- 17 September 2018 - further submissions received
- Late 2018 - Pre-hearings meetings
- Late 2018 - Staff report on submissions
- Early 2019 - Public hearings begin
- Mid-late 2019 - The Hearings Panel will deliberate and provide their decision
- Early 2020 - Council will make their decision on the recommendations of the Hearings Panel
Submitters may appeal the final decision to the Environment Court - if no appeal is made the Plan becomes operative
Changes across whole catchment
- Changes to some values - e.g. that wetlands and springs (as well as rivers) are seen as treasures
- Most rule deadlines extended by 20 months
The industry will still need to work towards the rules as they were notified. It is likely that the plan may change as it works its way through the hearings and appeals process.
- Certification programme for Nutrient Advisors and Farm Environment Planners is underway.
- WRC will run workshops to help you prepare.
- Land management training courses are being run for consultants to upskill in this area.
- A portal is being developed for registration of all farms above 2ha and for lodging nitrogen reference points.
For further help please contact:
Caleb Higham, Catchment Engagement Leader