Despite Fish & Game New Zealand chief executive Bryce Johnson's assurances in Talking Point in Hawke's Bay Today on Tuesday, September 26, that there is nothing further from the truth that towns will be "smashed" and farmers "ruined" when eloquently lambasting candidates' comments in the recent election campaign, our Tararua District still has good reason to be concerned.

Economic impact studies undertaken during the last four years show Tararua can expect a negative financial impact of $60 million a year from the implementation of One Plan.

Recent reviews of the financial impact, using current values and prices, indicate the hit to the district is now more likely to be $100m a year.

The reason for this concern in our district is Horizon Regional Council's One Plan. One Plan is a large, comprehensive document which for the most part, is very good. However, as far as nitrogen leaching is concerned, the document is flawed.

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1. One Plan requires intensive land users (for Tararua this is almost entirely farmers) to meet defined nitrogen leaching values using Overseer, a nutrient management computer modelling tool developed to help farmers with their nutrient management and fertiliser decision making.

Overseer is probably an excellent tool when used for the purpose for which it was developed, that is a management support tool to help farmers make better decisions about nutrient management, but is not fit for purpose when it comes to measuring for legislated consent compliance.

Using Overseer for this purpose is about the same as the police using an inaccurate computer speed detection model which is still being developed and enhanced to charge and prosecute speeding drivers. Any court would throw such cases out. Likewise, any cases brought by Horizons for consent non compliance based on the use of Overseer, should also be thrown out.

2. One Plan nitrogen leaching values are set out in Table 14.2 of the plan. These values were established using Overseer version 5.4. Since these values were established, there have been several upgrades to Overseer.

Using Overseer 5.4 it was thought 80 per cent of farmers in the region would be able to comply with Table 14.2. Under the current upgraded Overseer version 6, the Horizons estimate the number who can comply is closer to 20 per cent. This is a dramatic change and cause for serious concern.

There is also concern that in the priority catchments in Tararua, the number of farmers who can comply with Table 14.2 leaching values may be closer to zero.

It is interesting to note that in the Environment Court declarations, the applicants (ie. Fish & Game and Environmental Defence Society) state they consider the council (Horizons) could have undertaken a recalibration exercise when Overseer version 6 came into use, but opted not to do that.

They say that plan change could have dealt with any inconsistency in the Table (and associated policy and rules) the council may have had concern about.

This declaration is a clear confirmation of this particular flaw in One Plan and it is difficult to understand why Horizons Regional Council have made no attempt to fix it.

3. Overseer is a developing computer modelling tool. It does not factor in some key new technologies and science which reduce nitrogen leaching.

These new developments include fertiliser application developments and new plant species developments.

The recent announcement of Ecotain, a newly developed plant which significantly reduces the nitrogen content in cow urine, could have a huge beneficial impact on reducing nitrogen leaching levels, but One Plan's use of Overseer does not encourage farmers or science providers to take up or develop new technologies.

This is counter-productive to the goal of achieving sustainable improvement to our environment and in particular, to our waterways.

Right now, the dairy farmers of our district are understandably suffering from uncertainty of what One Plan consent requirements means for them.

The consequence of this uncertainty is inevitable, that is they will put things on hold and stop investing in things which are not critical to keeping their operation going.

This means investing in environmental improvements will not continue, which is totally counter-productive.

These flaws in One Plan are serious and desperately need to be fixed. The only logical fix is a plan change which provides a robust sound way forward that not only protects and enhances our environment, but also does not cause severe and unacceptable damage to our district's economic and social wellbeing.

One Plan is putting our dairy farmers under severe uncertainty and mental stress. As a caring society, we need to be working together constructively and collaboratively to agree on the solution which provides the best way forward and the outcomes we are all seeking.

In the meantime, implementation of One Plan, as ruled by the Environment Court, needs to be put on hold.

Putting implementation of the plan on hold will enable a good, robust long term solution to be developed without causing further economic and social uncertainty and damage to our community.

Allan Benbow is the deputy mayor for the Tararua District Council. He is also a foundation member of Tararua Economic Impact Society and producer of the initial economic impact report on the effects of One Plan. This work was validated by independent professional review.
All opinions are the writer's and not those of Hawke's Bay Today.