Water not the only game in town

By Federated Farmers South Island regional policy manager, Matt Harcombe

Federated Farmers' policy staff save farmers and councils time and money by bringing their specialist knowledge to the table, reports the Federation's South Island regional policy manager Matt Harcombe.

Regional water policy in New Zealand is a bit like rugby - it gets all the attention, but far from the only game in town.

Federated Farmers' work is hugely variable. Across both islands its regional policy teams have worked hard to develop specialist skills. This ensures we have the capacity and capability to manage all potential farm impacts from the myriad policies, bylaws and legislation being developed, administered and implemented by district and regional councils.

Some of it is hardly riveting stuff, but has potentially huge consequences for farmers.

Much of the work is driven by the Resource Management Act or the Local Government Acts. However, there is also the Conservation Act, Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act, Biosecurity Act, Freedom Camping Act, Historic Places Act and a raft of policy statements and plans, and discussion documents which could negatively or positively affect farmers' businesses.

This means the Federation is a real ally for its members, with this year seieing a reduction of ACC levies and changed agricultural vehicle regulations, reducing farmers' costs and unnecessary compliance. Councils have been amending Freedom Camping Bylaws, which may not seem important for farming. However, if freedom camping or campervans are pushed out of popular tourist areas, they inevitably end up in farmers' paddocks. Federated Farmers brought a consistent and rural voice to the conversation and in choosing a "good" bylaw to model off, we are able to spread good regulatory practice through the country.

The perennial issues of landscape and biodiversity protection continue to dominate our time. The floating status of the Government's National Policy Statement on indigenous biodiversity has not helped much, as councils cherry-picking the parts they like and ignore the rest.

There is work on-going around the impostion of new bylaws requiring construction of new stock underpasses in some districts and also Transpower's plans to get transmission buffer zones around pylons included in several district plans.

Federated Farmers has been working at central Government and council levels to get certainty around what the status of the policy statement is and make the implications to farmers clear.

That is one of the other major advantages of a regional/national approach to a policy advocacy organisation; our work with farmers at the grass roots brings practical, real-life examples to Ministers.

We also work at the interface of different pieces of legislation and how they interact. Without our expert input, these could impose expensive and unnecessary rules on farmers. A current example is fertiliser storage on farms which is done by most, if not all, farmers. The rules governing the storage of fertiliser stem from the RMA and the HSNO Acts.

Some councils have not quite got that crossover right which potentially means every farmer would need a resource consent for fertiliser storage, when the requirements already governing its storage and use are clear.

By sharing information between councils and developing expertise within staff, Federated Farmers can spot any issues, saving farmers and councils hundreds of thousands of dollars in resource consent costs.

Having staff who know what works when developing submissions means farmers receive real advice that gets results.

It is much more cost-effective to have expert staff, than have farmers paying for the time to understand the Act, look at other bylaws and develop submissions from scratch.

Just like people who play all the other hundreds of intense and exciting sports around the country outside of rugby, the Federation's staff members are passionate about their areas of expertise.

Federation membership has real value in paying professionals to manage their off-farm legislative risks. This is Federated Farmers' key point of difference.

- Hamilton News

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