Northland will need up to 5000 new farm environment plans to meet sweeping Ministry for the Environment freshwater reform legislation proposals.
Northland Regional Council land programme manager Duncan Kervell told farmers at the DairyNZ workshop in Whangārei this week that between 4000 and 5000 new farm environment plans would be needed in the North.
The meeting aimed to encourage submissions on the proposed new legislation.
Kervell told farmers he had 10-15 staff working all day on putting together farm environment plans.
The regional council had done 1000 of these plans with Northland farmers over the past seven years — more than any other New Zealand council. A further 4000 to 5000 plans would still need to be done within four years to meet the requirements of the proposed changes.
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Farm environment plans map properties and provide a snapshot of how a farming operation affects the environment, describing its influence on key water quality indicators such as nutrients, sediment and bacteria. Under new water reform proposals, the farm environment plans, once created, must be audited every two years by a specially certified operator.
DairyNZ senior environmental change specialist Helen Moodie said her organisation was concerned about the capability, capacity and practicality of having to do so many farm environment plans in such a short time.
Kaipara farmers in particular are worried about a shortage of people available to get the plans done.
Farm environment plans are required within two years for Kaipara Harbour catchment, the first in New Zealand to be part of the Government's $12 million clean waterways fund, aimed at helping communities clean up waterways.
Northland's need for farm environment plans will be echoed throughout the country, with many thousands more required under new proposals. Demand for certified specialists to do the environment plan work outstrips supply.
One Te Awamutu dairy farmer at the Whangārei meeting said Waikato alone would need 500 extra staff to deal with the new requirements.
Government financial support towards the cost of the farm plans was also raised at the meeting.
h2>Make a submission
Farmers are being urged to make submissions on the reforms by the end of the month amid "unprecedented" rural interest in New Zealand's biggest management change for the resource in almost three decades.
Moodie told the meeting the submission period was farmers' one chance to influence the outcome.
DairyNZ Northland regional leader Tareen Ellis said it was important farmers outlined the practical implications of the proposed policy in their submissions.
"They need to tell their story and the potential impact of the proposed changes — based on their own understandings," Ellis said.
"We can't emphasise the need for submissions enough."
DairyNZ has been talking about the reforms with farm discussion groups from Kaitaia to Helensville. Its website includes a submission template farmers can use. It also has a dairy reforms webinar. These can be seen at dairynz.co.nz/environment/in-your-region/essential-freshwater-package/
Moodie told the meeting DairyNZ was concerned the community and social impacts of these reforms had not been adequately addressed in the proposals.
DairyNZ was, at the conceptual level, in favour of the new legislation's intention to clean up waterways — but the details of how this would happen were of concern, she said.
Te Awamutu farmer Angela Fullerton said her son was now considering whether he wanted to continue dairying.
Workshop attendee Barry Thorne's concern has led him to making his first-ever submission on proposed legislation changes. He attended the workshop to find out more about doing this.
Ruawai dairy farmer Peter Flood will also be putting in a submission, something he had rarely done before. He and partner Jacqui Lynch milk 2500 cows on 875ha across four Ruawai farms.
One of the key issues centres around proposed 5m riparian fencing setback requirements. Flood and Lynch specifically attended the workshop to find out more about these. They have 150km of drains on their properties (all fenced off) and were told man-made drains such as theirs were exempt.
Fullerton too will be making a submission. This would include a call for efforts made to clean up waterways to be catchment based — an approach currently not part of proposals. She said farm environment plans were expensive, citing a cost of $20,000 to $75,000 each to put in place in Southland.
Fullerton's submission will call for sector-based farm environment plans to be used to reduce the cost for individual farmers having to put together their own farm environment plan. This means existing industry templates from dairy, sheep and beef, deer and other farming sectors could to be used.
Maungaturoto farmer Grant MacCallum was concerned about the costs for farmers in implementing the changes. DairyNZ is working out what the cumulative costs will be.
Other points raised included:
■ The definition of what constituted a waterway
■ Concerns over the lack of science behind some of the proposals' content
■ Foundations for proposal rulings being made on a national basis when there was significant local variation, for example with waterway nitrogen levels
■ Forestry's impact on waterway sediment
■ The choice of specific waterway quality indicators, where the acceptable levels for these were set and how they applied differently in different regions