One Plan one step too far

By Felicity Wolfe

Last week, Federated Farmers appealed the Environment Court's decision on Horizons Regional Council's One Plan.

As it stands, the plan threatens agriculture's ability to operate profitably in the region. Federated Farmers Manawatu-Rangitikei provincial president Andrew Hoggard says the current version would poorly serve the community. He says the Federation has identified several points of law it believes have not been properly considered.

"This plan has been seven years in the making, but for all that, the end result is disappointing for farmers and the primary sector in general," Mr Hoggard says.

The plan was always an ambitious project. It stirred up concern from many interested in resource management, environmental sustainability and primary production when it was notified in May 2007.

From the outset the primary sector had serious reservations. Perhaps most relevant were practical difficulties in implementing the strategy and the associated rules.

"There were numerous reasons why the initial rules were impractical and inappropriate, but after a lengthy hearing process the decisions version released in 2010 was significantly changed from the notified version by the independent commissioners," Mr Hoggard says.

The changes resulting from the submissions and hearings processes were received more favourably by farmers. In many instances Federated Farmers indicated it was relatively comfortable with the decisions version of the plan. The Federation became involved in the appeals process and extensive mediation throughout 2011, but there were still a number of matters to be put before the Environment Court.

Federated Farmers, along with the other primary sector groups including Horticulture New Zealand, Fonterra and Ravensdown, represented the interests of the primary industries in response to the positions put forward by Fish and Game and Department of Conservation. Horizons took some middle ground.

The Environment Court released its One Plan findings on September 4.

The court's directions for the water chapters, as well as some additional changes to the biodiversity and land chapters, make the plan similar to the 2007 notified version.

For farmers, the water chapters of the notified version had significant shortcomings. Perhaps the most important was the inability to apply the rules outlined in these chapters to many intensive land-use enterprises. This is because, despite all intensive land uses being captured by the rules, the tools to apply and monitor the rules are not applicable to many primary industries.

The re-introduction of resource consent requirements for other intensive land uses, including cropping, commercial vegetable production and irrigated sheep and beef, is hugely significant to the region's primary sector.

Many farmers recognised throughout the One Plan process that an all-in approach to managing water quality was the most appropriate mechanism.

However, if land use is to be managed in a catchment-wide approach, the tools for that management must be fit for purpose, expectations for water quality must be realistic and farming must be able to continue to ensure the economic and social wellbeing of those catchment communities.

The plan as it has now emerged has:

A nitrogen-leaching loss limit assigned to existing and new intensive land uses, based on the land-use capability of the soil

A sinking lid on nitrogen-leaching loss over 20 years

Requirements on farmers to get consent to farm where they have existing intensive land use in the priority water management zone, or if they seek new intensive land use anywhere in the region

Indigenous biodiversity managed at a regional, rather than district, level.

Although all farmers in the region are affected by the One Plan, some are more directly affected than others. For example, it is likely that, given production constraints and limitations to future land use, this plan will cause the value of all farm land in the region to drop.

"This is my interpretation of the One Plan," Mr Hoggard says.

"All other parties have also been working out what the plan will mean to their businesses and Horticulture New Zealand also lodged an appeal.

"At this stage there is considerable uncertainty about how the plan will be implemented, but if the plan is not practical to apply, it won't work," he says.

"The administrators of the plan depend on land-owners taking action so let us hope that, out of necessity, common sense will prevail."

- Hamilton News

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