Govt proposal to protect waterways is cynically timed and superfluous, says rural lobby group.
Federated Farmers is questioning the need for a National Party proposal for a compulsory ban on dairy cattle from all waterways, suggesting the policy is cynically timed and practically already in place.
Prime Minister John Key and Environment Minister Amy Adams announced the policy at Waituna Lagoon in Southland yesterday, including $100 million over 10 years to buy farmland next to sensitive waterways to use as an environmental shield to protect water quality.
Ms Adams said the land could be used for environmental purposes, or community recreation.
She said National would build the economy and protect water quality at the same time, noting the Government's $400 million fund for new irrigation projects.
She praised farmers for fencing off 90 per cent of waterways to date, but said it was time to move to a compulsory ban on dairy cattle.
But Andrew Hoggard, the Federated Farmers dairy chairman, said such a ban was effectively already in place. "It's in our conditions to supply to Fonterra. If you don't meet the conditions of supply, they won't pick your milk up, and you'll be out of business. That's a scarier prospect than breaking [a compulsory ban].
"In just over a decade, stock hasbeen excluded from some 23,000km of waterways. That's enough fencing to go from Auckland to Beijing and back again, with a one-way trip to Queenstown."
He also suggested the timing of the ban to come into effect in July 2017 was cynical; it is two months after a voluntary goal of a 100 per cent ban.
"I worry about the message it sends. If we look to encourage farmers into other voluntary schemes, anything environmental, then you may get farmer push-back."
He had no issue with buying and retiring farmland, as long as farmers were properly compensated.
But Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said the plan did not go far enough. Based on Dairy NZ figures, the fund would buy the equivalent of 400 rugby fields a year, meaning 777 fewer cows. "It will not solve our water-quality problems if we continue to allow more conversions in sensitive catchments."
He said National should have required landowners to obtain resource consent for land use intensification, but it bowed to "polluter pressure".
This year the Government announced national standards for fresh water, requiring a minimum standard to make rivers safe for wading and boating, and allowing local authorities to set higher standards.
Labour and the Greens want stronger measures to make all lakes and rivers swimmable, but National has said it would be too costly.