We don’t want farmers to break the law
The Government’s winter grazing regime is becoming increasingly confusing for farmers as D-Day looms to have consents in place, warns Federated Farmers, Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) and DairyNZ.
Joint media release from Federated Farmers, DairyNZ and Beef + Lamb New Zealand.
The Government has been slow to implement freshwater farm plans, forcing farmers into an expensive consent process, while councils nationwide are struggling with the consenting burden.
This has left farmers at risk of breaking the law as planting for winter crops needs to take place in late spring, says Federated Farmers National Board spokesperson, Water and Environment, Colin Hurst.
“We’ve been told by the Ministry for the Environment, Ministry for Primary Industries and various regional councils that ‘it’s ok’ and nothing will happen if farmers get planting, even though they’d be at risk of breaking the law.”
Hurst says Federated Farmers, B+LNZ and DairyNZ anticipated this potential outcome and even warned the Government.
“The Government hasn’t delivered a farm plan pathway as promised and they can’t even tell us when it will be ready,” he says.
“Regional councils are trying, but they are overworked, just like farmers. It’s been estimated that up to 10,000 farmers will need to apply for a resource consent without delay, which will waste a lot of time and money.
“Both councils and the Government have recognised that farmers have improved winter grazing practice, but the Government hasn’t delivered on its promise to develop a farm plan pathway.”
The current rules require farmers who carry out winter grazing – and don’t meet a range of permitted activity criteria – to either have a certified Freshwater Farm Plan or to apply for a resource consent from 1 November 2022. However, with the development of Freshwater Farm Plans being delayed, thousands of farmers must now apply for a consent.
Federated Farmers, DairyNZ and B+LNZ wrote to Minister David Parker in August calling for winter grazing rules to be put on hold until November 2023, as the Government has not yet implemented crucial elements of the new framework. There has been no response. A second letter was sent to Minister Parker last week (22 September), which also included Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Hurst says some councils are advising farmers not to apply for a resource consent, even if the law requires it.
“In the view of Federated Farmers, this is placing a lot of risk on farmers. If things go wrong on the farm and council action is taken, a farmer will be in a far worse position than if they had a resource consent.”
Environment Southland recently advised it will provide a third pathway for intensive winter grazing, that only breaches the slope aspect of the regulations. It will be through the Resource Management Act and is expected to cost farmers around $500.
“While we appreciate the efforts Environment Southland has made to put forward a practical solution for their farmers, it does not solve the issues raised by the sector groups and adds to the confusion of the variety of approaches across the country,” says B+LNZ chief executive Sam McIvor.
“In our view, farmers are being put in an impossible situation by the inability to get a timely consent, and the promised freshwater farm plan pathway.
“This is why we are asking Minister Parker to delay the regulations and to allow for the development of a practical alternative until the freshwater farm plan pathway is fully available.
“In the meantime, if you are concerned about your own legal risk, we encourage you to seek individual advice, along with taking photos and records of what you are doing.”
DairyNZ chief executive Dr Tim Mackle says the situation is putting unnecessary pressure and confusion on farmers – and a solution is urgently required.
“We need the Government to deliver a freshwater farm plan framework so farmers can use it. In the meantime, Government needs to take a practical approach to these regulations and how farmers can proceed for next season,” says Dr Mackle.
“Most farmers are already implementing the good management practices required in the new legislation and farmers have come through a challenging winter very well. Regional councils are reporting that farmers have widely adopted best management practices and were well set up for winter grazing this year.”