Horizons Regional Council's One Plan and the government's Resource Management Act both came under intense scrutiny at a meeting called by current MP for Wairarapa Alistair Scott on Thursday September 14 at the Dannevirke Hub.

There was a three-way discussion between the government, represented by current Wairarapa MP Alistair Scott and Speaker of the House David Carter, Horizons Regional Council Councillors Bruce Gordon and John Barrow and executive member Nic Peet, and local farmers and business people represented by Russell Phillips of the Tararua Community Economic Impact Society.

Russell outlined the crisis facing Tararua and dairy farmers following the Environment Court's ruling ordering Horizons to enforce the regulations of the One Plan, particularly those related to nutrient runoff into rivers. Fish & Game NZ and the Environmental Defence Society lodged an appeal to the One Plan this year.

Russell Phillips presented the dairy farmers' case to National MP Alistair Scott and the Speaker of the House David Carter. Photo/Bush Telegraph
Russell Phillips presented the dairy farmers' case to National MP Alistair Scott and the Speaker of the House David Carter. Photo/Bush Telegraph

He said the implications for dairy farmers will be a 24 to 61 per cent drop in profitability and a subsequent reduction in spending in the Tararua, which a number of experts put at $105 million per year, and costing 400 jobs.

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This would also cause a drop in land values and reduce the progress being made in reducing farmers' nitrogen footprint because they would no longer have money to invest in the latest science.

Half of Tararua's 265 farmers have restricted discretionary consents to operate and the rest need to apply at a cost of $30-50,000. Under the current measurement, none meet the Assessment of Environmental Effects (AEE) - no dairy farmers do.

Bruce Gordon said the measure of environmental effects was imposed by the Environment Court in 2012 and subsequent tinkering with the Overseer model has made it impossible for farmers to comply.

Russell Phillips asked what were farmers supposed to do. If they apply Horizons cannot issue a consent unless the farmer spends a large amount and if they do not apply farmers can be taken to court. "We are damned if we do, and damned if we don't," he said.

Dr Nic Peet advised farmers to start the process beginning with the base files with help from DairyNZ, and state the mitigations for the environmental effects they have and are planning. He said so long as there is evidence of serious intent "it passes the test of reasonableness" but admitted he could not guarantee no prosecutions.

Russell Phillips called for a change in the One Plan to make it possible for farmers to comply, and Bruce Gordon said the One Plan was a priority for Horizons but he feared when it was made the Environment Court would have a say if the original complainants were appealed.

Russell also requested a total overhaul of the Resource Management Act which overarches the One Plan.

Former Minister of Agriculture David Carter said National had been unable to do "more than just tweak it a little" because its coalition partners would not agree. "We need a mandate from this election to get the job done properly," he said.

He regretted there was becoming a real rural-urban divide in the election and city people should acknowledge the $1 billion spent already by dairy farmers reducing environmental impacts.

Wairarapa MP Alistair Scott said the National Party was not in the business of putting farmers out of business.

He said people had short memories and did not remember when raw effluent was pumped into rivers from a variety of sources making them far more polluted than today.

At the request of the 50-strong audience he promised to have the Minister of Agriculture Nathan Guy in the Tararua to talk with locals about the issue after the election.

Numerous questions about the One Plan, broadband coverage, medical services and the Manawatu Gorge were also covered in a very busy hour and a half.