DairyNZ has been advocating on behalf of dairy farmers in the Waikato Region on Plan Change 1, which will introduce new rules and requirements to improve water quality in the Waikato and Waipā catchments.
Waikato Plan Change 1 (PC1) will set rules for agricultural land use to improve water quality in the Waikato and Waipā catchments. Waikato Regional Council (WRC) first notified PC1 in 2016, and following the Council Hearing, a decision was released in April 2020. The process is currently with the Environment Court with final decisions expected in 2024. The release of central government policies in 2020 has had an impact on some of the content of the Plan and caused delays.
If unchanged, the proposed changes could have significant implications for farmer consenting and farm plan requirements, as well as minimum standards which need to be met on farm. General information about PC1 is available on the WRC website.
What DairyNZ is doing
DairyNZ has been involved since the start of the consultation process through to our appeal of the ‘decisions version’ released in April 2020. Following mediation, we submitted evidence from several of our experts, including water quality scientists and farm systems specialists, and we funded legal and planning support for a joint case together with Fonterra. Our evidence has aimed to reflect and recognise the work dairy farmers have done for water quality to date and ongoing commitments to improve environmental outcomes.
Throughout the court process we have been working closely with other stakeholders including dairy companies, Federated Farmers and Beef+Lamb New Zealand, to find common positions and solutions that work for both dairy Farmers and the wider primary sector where possible.
Key concerns and what this means for you
There are several key issues central to our appeal:
Resource Consent Requirements
Many dairy farmers will require consents under the proposed plan change. We have sought a risk-based approach that provides for more permitted activities, so that fewer consents will be required.
Drafting gate for who requires a consent
Under the initial proposal, decisions on whether a consent was required relied on Overseer nutrient budget outputs. In turn, a farmer’s consent status determined which rules applied to the farm. While a “drafting gate” approach remains, we have sought changes for a simpler, less costly alternative based on existing information that dairy farmers already collect.
In collaboration with other primary industry bodies, including Fonterra, we have proposed the use of a Nitrogen risk scorecard tool instead, but agreed that other tools such as Overseer be supported where farmers have already invested in those approaches.
Freshwater Farm Plans
We have sought alignment between Freshwater Farm Plans brought in through the recently released national regulations, and the requirements for farm environment plans through Plan Change 1. We have also advocated that existing dairy sector farm plans be recognised, and that farmers should only be required to do one farm plan to meet their regulatory requirements.
What do you need to do now?
Unless you are making major changes to land use, you don’t currently need to take any action. Keep doing the great things you do to manage your farm environment, while ensuring you continue to meet existing regulations.
If you’re in a catchment where freshwater farm plans are now required under the national regulations, keep working with your dairy company to understand how your existing farm plan can be used to support the development of a regulated freshwater farm plan. You can find out more on the Waikato Regional Council Website.
What are the next steps?
- A final decision by the Environment Court is unlikely to be released until next year.
- We have dedicated significant resource to this process and will continue to do so to ensure we get the best outcomes we can on key issues impacting dairy farmers.
- Once decisions are issued by the court we will update all affected farmers in the Waikato Region.
- Further changes to Waikato’s freshwater regulations are required under the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management. DairyNZ will continue to advocate on behalf of dairy farmers in these future processes.
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