Whanganui Federated Farmers president Mike Cranstone has called the Government's new regulations around freshwater a shambles and says they fail to acknowledge the momentum farmers already have in place to address environmental issues, including freshwater.

Whanganui Federated Farmers president Mike Cranstone describes new freshwater policies as a shambles.
Whanganui Federated Farmers president Mike Cranstone describes new freshwater policies as a shambles.

The new rules to protect and restore New Zealand's fresh water were passed into law on August 5.

Fourth-generation Whanganui sheep and beef farmer Cranstone said farmers had been quick to adopt the best practice recommendations for winter grazing and that catchment groups driven by farmers to understand and address water quality issues at a local level had mushroomed.

"Daily decision-making by farmers now considers the environmental outcome alongside stock performance. The Government insists only regulations will produce an outcome when, in fact, it is all the small gains made by positive daily decisions that make the difference," Cranstone said.

Advertisement

"Environment Minister David Parker excluded the farming industry organisations from his hand-picked working group that drafted the initial document, then the 14,000 submissions appeared to have very little influence on the final regulations.

"It's no wonder that we have ended up with dumb rules for some things that never needed a rule in the first place. An example is the requirement to resow winter feed crop paddocks by November 1, farmers want to get crops established as early as possible but know that they can't influence the weather and soil conditions.

"It is now each regional councils' task to figure out how it will implement this shamble of regulations. The Government ignored many proven strategies that farmers included in their submissions; hopefully, the regional councils can read them.

"It's going to require massive resources, both in personnel and in dollars. I hope the regional councils take a more collaborative approach than the Government. I think Horizons know from experience that working alongside farmers achieves better environmental progress.

"The regional councils also will take the responsibility of considering regional economies more seriously than what the Government has.

"The Government has done no analysis on how these regulations will impact on the ability of farming industries to continue to function, whether physically or financially. If directors of a company were to implement such a policy with no analysis, they would be deemed both incompetent and liable for failing their required duty," Cranstone said.

David Cotton, one of Whanganui's two regional councillors on the Horizons board, said he was unable to comment until it had been discussed at board level.

However, Cotton said he understood the cost to Horizons to administer the new regulations over the next four years was estimated at between $10 million and $15 million and, to his knowledge, with no funding from central government.

Advertisement

Environment Minister Parker and Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor welcomed the gazetting of the new national direction on freshwater management.

"These regulations deliver on the Government's commitment to stop further degradation, show material improvements within five years and restore our waterways to health within a generation," Parker said.

This includes the new National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management (NPS-FM), National Environmental Standards for Freshwater (NES-FW), stock exclusion regulations, and regulations in the measurement and reporting of water takes.

Significant policies that now have legal backing include:
• Requiring councils to give effect to Te Mana o Te Wai by prioritising the health and wellbeing of our waterways
• Halting further loss of natural wetlands and streams
• Setting higher health standards at swimming spots
• Putting controls on high-risk farm practices such as winter grazing and feedlots
• Setting stricter controls on nitrogen pollution and new bottom lines on other measures of waterway health
• Requiring urban waterways to be cleaned up and new protections for urban streams
• Preserving and restoring the connectivity of New Zealand fish species' habitats
• Requiring mandatory and enforceable farm environment plans
• Making real-time measuring and reporting of data on water use mandatory.

Some of the new rules have taken immediate effect (from September 3), while there is a longer timeframe for others. Supporting the changes is the faster planning process for regional councils to speed up implementation of the NPS-FM, made law in June through the Resource Management Amendment Act.