In 2014 this area of Pukekauri Farms was described by the Ballance Farm Environmental judges 'as of national significance'.

Components of the Essential Freshwater Proposals will decimate hill country farming.
Essentially those intensively farming and operating beyond the natural capability of the land are rewarded under the proposed Land-use Change rules. Our extensive, most diverse, farming systems with the highest biodiversity and lowest environmental impacts will be pushed out of business.

I totally agree with the key objectives of Essential Fresh Water, but this proposal must create an environment of empowerment across NZ with all of us working together to meet realistic targets. Rules must be fair and equitable and backed by good science.

We share the vision of better water quality, but we do not support the way in which it has been applied. After sifting through the detail, the reality of what is being proposed will reward intensive farming systems with high losses of nitrogen and phosphorus.

Advertisement

The Ministers have said that those farmers who are doing the right thing won't be affected, but my view is that the unintended consequences of these proposals will perversely penalise those good farmers who have been operating within the limits of their land.

The rules essentially locks good farmers down under a Nitrogen (N) Cap which will affect many extensive hill country sheep and beef farms and the organic and system 1 and 2 dairy farms. (System 1 — All grass self contained, all stock on the dairy platform with no feed imported.

System 2 — Approximately 4 — 14 per cent of total feed is imported.)

A few farms at the very highest N levels may need to come down a little, but as currently written most intensive farm operations will be able to continue leaching N at relatively high rates, compared with most sheep and beef farms.

For most extensive sheep and beef farms N is not an issue, leaching rates are so low that they should have flexibility for land-use change — introducing some cropping or horticulture which would increase N leaching rates. As long as they farmed within a safe N limit determined by science for their soil type and land class, this should be acceptable.
The current proposal locks them into a situation which gives no flexibility for future farming system development or change in land use. This is grandparenting which has no science base, it's an expedient mechanism which, in my view, is morally wrong and unsustainable.

This will have a serious impact on farmers' ability to improve profitability and carry out environmental protection work .

If I look at our own farm which we have completely redesigned over 20 years, we have improved profitability and reduced our environmental footprint. This has reduced sediment and E. Coli loss achieved by retiring marginal land, riparian management and recreation of wetlands alongside more paddocks, subdivision and reticulated water. Our nitrogen loss increased marginally but the work we have done has resulted in a dramatic improvement in water quality and farm profitability.

It would not be possible for us to do what we have done under the land-use change and other restrictions, under the current Essential Freshwater Proposals.

Advertisement

For many farmers these rules will mean that the only option will be to sell into forestry because this is the only other land use that has a lower N rate than sheep and beef.
This will also have serious implications on land values where the value of the land will be indexed to how much nitrogen you are leaching. This is one of many perverse outcomes from this proposal, where wealth will be transferred to farmers with high N loss farm systems ie the polluters. In my view, this is a confiscation of property rights and a theft of natural capital.

Those farmers operating intensive farm systems need to take responsibility for their own nitrogen pollution and not look at the hill country farmers to bail them out. The hill country farmers can and should take care of their own issues, being mainly sediment and E. Coli, but they should not be in the business of diluting someone else's pollution.
The 'good farmers' around our country have woken up to grandparenting and offsetting principles which threaten their future.

It's my opinion, responsible good farmers won't tolerate having a grandparenting rule imposed upon them. It is already resulting in push back and could ultimately lead to wholesale non-compliance and action against the Government for the theft of natural capital.

This is exactly what we don't want if we are to embark on this journey of improving water quality and ecosystem health.

When considering imposing Land-Use Change rules (grandparenting) I believe the Government needs to ask itself are they being bullied into finding common ground with big-business intensive farming operations, or are they acting for the common good of all Kiwis and the environment?

There is a better way. Rules should incentivise best practice, attract science, empower all our food producing sectors to work together to take ownership of their specific environmental issues addressing them at a local community level within sub-catchments.
Sub-catchment groups working with their Regional Council have the ability to address specific issues within their sub-catchments, set targets to aim for within realistic time frames.

This will require farmers to work through their Industry Farm Environment Plans tailored to their farm, which from my own experience is a powerful tool to not only improve water quality and ecosystem health, but in most cases will unlock opportunities to improve profitability.

It's quite simple really, we all share the natural environment and individually must take responsibility for the damage we are causing it. We are looking for a fair system that will ensure we have vibrant farming communities, that we all work together to improve water quality and manage our landscapes in a sustainable fashion for future generations.

Rick Burke, Chairman — Farmers 4 Positive Change