The Healthy Water Healthy Future statement issued by environment, health, recreation, and water infrastructure groups has significant alignment with the feedback from more than 3000 sheep and beef farmers who have attended dozens of freshwater meetings over the last three weeks, including 25 hosted by Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ).
"Our farmers support the intent of the government's proposals and are working to address the sheep and beef sector's specific issues," says B+LNZ CEO Sam McIvor.
"We support effective freshwater policies and the need for clear, science-based environmental bottom lines that protect human and ecological health, as well as frameworks that empower farmers and communities to work together to achieve these.
"The main concerns that have been raised by sheep and beef farmers are that that the current proposals would reward the highest nitrogen leaching operations and penalise the farming systems with the lightest environmental touch.
"We are pleased that environmental groups have also raised this as an area that needs to be changed, and that they also agree that farm plans should not be used as regulatory tools."
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Feedback from B+LNZ's meetings showed that farmers are committed to improving the health of New Zealand's rivers and support the ultimate water quality goals of the government's proposals, but are concerned that a straight-jacket, through a range of "grandparenting provisions", is being placed on low-emitters – including most sheep and beef farmers – to mitigate against the impacts of high emitters.
"The Government is, in effect, placing high costs on our most environmentally sustainable and low impact farming systems," says Sam.
The Government's freshwater proposals would lock in existing land uses – supposedly for five years – but the flow on impacts for productivity, land values, and farm succession would endure far beyond that.
"It's grandparenting of existing discharge rights, irrespective of impact, and we struggle to see how the Government can see it otherwise, as these proposals would prevent the small changes in farming systems on low-emitting farms that would be needed to offset the additional costs to comply with other parts of the proposed regulations," says Sam.
"We are keen to work with the Government and, with some small but significant changes (such as removing grandparenting and using rule-laden farm environment plans as a regulatory tool), we should be able to get a result that meets environmental needs, but more fairly reflects the impacts that various farming systems are having on New Zealand's freshwater quality."