More than 70 farmers filled the Rua Roa Hall recently to hear Horizons Regional Council explain its plan change proposal to the One Plan, one of a number of meetings around the region which were also attended by DairyNZ and Fonterra.

"We are all working on this together," Tararua District mayor and Eketahuna dairy farmer Tracey Collis said.

The path to a "consent to farm" regime was begun by Horizons Regional Council in 2007 and the table was embedded in regulation based on land use capability (LUC) class and the maximum amount of nutrient leaching allowed as to not impact on water quality, with numbers calculated through software modelling tool Overseer.

The latest Plan change includes a recalibration of nitrogen leaching numbers to ensure a practicable consenting pathway exists for land intensive users in line with the regional policy statement and regional-wide catchment reviews.


Last year the Environment Court told the council it must refuse consent to farmers unable to restrict nitrogen leaching to totals in the One Plan's Table 14.2.

The totals were taken from a version of Overseer, a computer system for estimating nitrogen leaching through soil.

"Dairy farmers have had to deal with ever-changing goalposts caused by Overseer updates, standard consenting pathways rejected by the Environment Court and increased uncertainty as both issues stymie real environmental progress," Collis, a member of the Tararua Economic Impact Group, said.

"The best piece of advice we can give to farmers is to be involved in the process and understand the impacts on their businesses.

"Farmers need to support each other because there will be some able to meet the recalibrated table and others who will find it challenging. It will feel stressful but working one-to-one with the consultants available will help identify mitigations that will assist."

And Collis urged farmers to look after each other through this process.

"Above all, keep your communication lines open," she said.

"For farmers there is uncertainty and they are worried. But this is just a recalibration of the Overseer model. However, farmers are asking, 'will this be challenged?' We have unconsented farms in our district, with some on a restricted concessional consent and some consented, but I am relatively confident after hearing what Dr Nick Peet (Horizons Regional Council strategy and regulation manager), has had to say."

The proposed change affects the nitrogen leaching table found in the Discharge to Land and Water and has a major impact on whether farmers can gain a resource consent.

"Farmers have a greater understanding of their role in achieving positive environmental outcomes than perhaps they did in 2007," Collis said.

"And with improved science and good communication between the regional council and farmers, this has contributed to that knowledge and also helped build better relationships."

Overseer has been updated eight times since the table was produced but the table itself was never updated.

The proposed recalculation is expected to address the issues this has caused.

"It is an ongoing challenge to stick together as an industry and as more farmers are able to get consented, my wish is for each to continue to support those struggling through the process," Collis said.

"Farmers in Tararua are acutely aware of environmental and nutrient management and recent Tararua winners in the Ballance Environment awards are great examples of that."