Dairy Conversion Rule barking up the wrong tree

By Russell McPherson, Southland Federated Farmers Dairy Chairperson

Imagine the uproar if councils required resource consents before new homes could be built, even in areas already zoned residential? This is what is proposed for new dairy conversions in Southland.

From April 14, converting land to new dairy farming will become a discretionary activity. This means farmers wanting to convert to dairy farming will require resource consent from Environment Southland (ES). The critical distinction here is that land use is under fire, not any resulting effects of that land use. The interim policy is part of the council's wider Water and Land Programme 2020.

At present it is unclear how well the policy will work in practice. It may mean some farmers face frustratingly long delays before they find out whether their conversion has been approved, creating uncertainty for farmers wanting to sell or buy land with conversion potential.

I'm strongly in favour of working with the entire community, not just farmers, to better understand the drivers for improving water quality in the region.

However, instead of getting everyone together to improve waterways, Environment Southland has alienated around 800 sheep and beef and 1000 dairy farmers by introducing a politically-motivated rule we consider a gross infringement of our property rights.

The council seems to have failed to grasp the policy will not just affect new conversions, but may also deter people from taking up dairying, potentially causing farm prices to plummet and urban property prices to fall because the policy undermines the key driver for growth in Southland.

Last year's publicity around Waituna Lagoon kicked off another wave of anti-dairy hysteria in the region which in turn prompted ES's current proposal.

However, the Lagoon's water quality has far more to do with historical land use, sediment load and the management of the lake's opening regime, rather than recent shifts towards dairy land use.

If ES was really serious about targeting the priority areas for improving water quality, a similar policy requiring new houses and urban properties to install portaloos rather than flush toilets may make as much sense.

It is a sad reality that townships seemingly gain consents to pollute waterways, but potential new dairy farmers, who use the best systems to manage any potential effects, are bombarded with unnecessary compliance hoops. This is unfair.

Despite opposing the dairy conversion policy, Federated Farmers Southland fully supports the council's 2020 programme to clean up the region's waterways alongside the rest of the Southland community, including Fish and Game, the Department of Conservation and local iwi.

Everyone's efforts should to go into this programme, instead of hitting farmers with a ridiculous rule.

We believe the rule, supposed to be implemented this month, will achieve practically nothing to improve water quality, but Southland farmers right to farm will be affected. We held a protest on Wednesday 4 April at ES to show our opposition.

Obviously, farmers will not accept it lying down.

- Hamilton News

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