Frequently asked questions
Is the plan change 1 (PC1) decision final?
No, the current decision could change as a result of appeals by DairyNZ and other parties.
While Plan Change 1 is not operative until any appeals are resolved, there are some minimum standards that farmers must meet as the decision has now been notified (see below).
Has DairyNZ lodged an appeal on the plan change?
Yes, we have lodged an appeal on Healthy Rivers - Plan Change 1 (Waikato and Waipa River Catchments).
Our appeal is supported by the Waikato Dairy Leaders Group.
We heard significant concerns from farmers that the Plan Change didn’t provide certainty about what was required when consents were lodged – particularly on nitrogen leaching management requirements. Our appeal seeks clearer guidance on this so that farmers don’t waste time and money through the consent process.
Through our appeal we have highlighted that we want to see the changes dairy farmers will make in environmental management on their farms benefit the Waikato River. We are concerned that the council decision may allow other land uses to increase their contaminant losses and negatively impact the river.
We would like to see more consistent environmental requirements across all land users. Currently, the Plan Change does not provide the community with certainty that contaminant losses will reduce for other land users – there is a risk they may increase. As a result, the improvements in river quality the community and dairy farmers want to see may not occur.
Being part of the appeal also gives DairyNZ the opportunity to represent farmer’s views and advocate for a fair solution should other parties put forward changes which affect dairy farmers.
It will take up to the end of 2021 for appeals to the plan change to be resolved. After this the council makes the regulation operative and the wording will not change.
Do I need to do anything immediately?
PC1 has an interim period of permitting farming as long as some minimum standards in Schedule C are met. Dairy farmers who need to apply for a resource consent for a Farm Environment Plan can continue under this interim arrangement. The relevant date for lodging a resource consent for the Farm Environment Plan varies by sub-catchment.
The minimum standards in Schedule C cover stock exclusion, sacrifice paddocks, winter forage crop grazing and nitrogen fertiliser application. They apply to all farms once the plan change decision is notified, which has now occurred. These include:
- grazed winter crops and sacrifice paddocks must be set back from water bodies. Note that water bodies are: rivers and artificial watercourses permanently or intermittently flowing, and lakes, and wetlands greater than 50m²
- cultivation must be set back 5m from these water bodies (except direct drilling), and
- no more than 30kg/N fertiliser per dressing may be applied, and none in June and July.
Stock exclusion requirements are not immediate and are phased in over several years. It is managed in two ways:
- as one of the minimum farming practices that apply to permitted activity rules (Schedule C, see below); or
- through the consenting process where a tailored approach is taken through Farm Environment Plans.
For permitted activities in Schedule C, cattle, horses, deer and pigs must be excluded from wetlands, lakes and permanently or intermittently flowing streams when the land has a paddock scale stocking rate greater than 18 stock units per hectare.
New fencing must provide for a 3 metre setback for waterbodies. Drains have different requirements - no setback is required for drains less than 2 metres wide, and for drains wider than 2 metres a one metre setback is required.
Do I have to reduce nitrogen leaching and when by?
Plan Change 1 introduces stricter resource consents for farms that have high nitrogen (N) leaching. Farms are categorised by nitrogen leaching loss rate levels in Table 1 Schedule B (below).
If your property N leaching is high you will have to reduce N. Until the plan change is operative, most dairy farms will be considered a permitted activity if you comply with some minimum standards.
Minimum standards that apply to all farms are listed in the previous question.
Freshwater Management Unit3
Lower Waikato River
≥ 21 and ≤ 29
Middle Waikato River
≥ 21 and ≤ 33
Upper Waikato River
>31 and ≤ 57
>30 and ≤ 43
≤ denotes 'less than or equal to'
>denotes ‘greater than’
The N leaching number is based on an average across the whole property (not just the milking platform area). It must be calculated on all farms over 20 ha, using Overseer or an alternative approved model, with the current N leaching number (referred to in the table above) based on your farm figure from any one year from 2015/16 to 2019/20. Farmers can select which year they wish to choose.
For dairy farms that fall into the low N leaching category, farming is permitted if the property develops a FEP that meets minimum standards. These standards are in addition to the ones that apply immediately to all farms.
Properties in the moderate category need to develop a Farm Environment Plan and require a controlled activity resource consent that must be granted with conditions. If you can demonstrate your N leaching is “as low as practicable given the current land use,” you likely won’t be required to reduce your N leaching. However, if you can’t, you may be required to make N leaching reductions.
Properties in the high category will need to apply for a resource consent and show they will ‘significantly’ reduce their nitrogen leaching through their Farm Environment Plan. There is no absolute percentage that N must be reduced by. This is determined in the consent and there is some guidance in Plan Change 1 policies 2 and 4. Mitigation actions to reduce N would be specified as part of the FEP consent.
When do I need to reduce N leaching by?
If your property is in the high N leaching category, the FEP consent will set out a timeline for on-farm mitigations that are intended to reduce N leaching. The council sets the length of the consent.
Policy 7 says that consents will not be granted past 2035. This is to allow for any changes in the next plan change.
Do I have to have a resource consent and a farm environment plan (FEP)?
Yes if your nitrogen leaching loss rate is moderate or high according to Table 1 (included above, in the question Do I have to reduce nitrogen leaching and when by?).
FEPs remain the core tool of the plan change. The FEP is intended to reduce the risk of nitrogen, sediment, E.coli and phosphorus entering water bodies as a result of farm activities.
As part of the consent process to obtain a FEP, a certified Farm Environment Planner will be required. This person has relevant expertise and experience and will approve the FEP, including the N leaching loss rate, using Overseer or another suitable model.
When do I need to have a resource consent and a farm environment plan by?
In order to manage the large numbers of FEP consents lodged with council, these have been spread over five years, starting once Plan Change 1 is operative. This is likely to be 2023, after any appeals have been dealt with by the Environment Court.
When your FEP is due will depend on which sub catchment you are in.
Waikato Regional Council has published a schedule and map showing when FEPs are due. For farms that are in catchments listed as Year 1, your consent for a FEP must be lodged with council in 2024. Year 5 would be 2028.
What information or help is available on how I can reduce nitrogen losses?
DairyNZ will continue to work with affected farmers to share knowledge about options and possible solutions in the future.
We already have a publication called Reducing Nitrogen Loss which you can read to get some ideas. You could also talk with your farm advisor, or a DairyNZ consulting officer about your options.
Who do I contact for more information about the plan change decision?
You can also read a summary of proposed rules by Waikato Regional Council on the plan change decision, or call the council for advice on how the rules apply to your farm on 0800 800 401.
DairyNZ will continue to work with dairy companies, Federated Farmers, rural professionals and council farm advisory staff, to provide advice to farmers on this plan change.