Major new proposed standards for New Zealand freshwater management are fair to farmers, according to the Minister of Agriculture Damien O'Connor.
His comments as he spoke to a Northland consultation meetings around the new Government changes in freshwater management.
Two meetings were held in Whangārei - a hui at Pehiaweri Marae and a public meeting at Tikipunga High School on Thursday. O'Connor said the proposed new standards were, collectively, fair to farmers.
Most farmers accepted and agreed there was a need to clean up New Zealand's waterways, he said.
"They understand the value of that clean water," O'Connor said. He and Minister for the Environment David Parker earlier this month jointly released Ministry for the Environment (MfE) proposed new standards to clean up New Zealand's waterways.
Parker at the time described these as the biggest change to the country's freshwater management in almost 30 years.
Case studies from the new standards say implementing them would cost $148,500 over 10 years on a typical New Zealand rolling hill country sheep and beef farm, $93,500 for a lowland dairy farm (milking 430 cows) and $92,000 for a typical commercial vegetable grower.
Northland Federated Farmers president John Blackwell said the new MfE proposals have hit farmer morale hard. He said talk of the new standards was already forcing farm values down. But O'Connor said he did not accept that.
Farming properties had been in many cases overvalued for some time and there were a lot of factors at play, he said. O'Connor said forestry had not been included in the proposed new standards as that sector had its own quality control legislation. This is in spite of forestry harvesting contributing to waterway sediment.
Sediment, nitrogen runoff, and a raft of other water quality indicators have been targeted in the new standards. Farmer actions to be taken to improve these indicators include halting new dairy conversions and irrigation expansion and increasing the width of riparian strips along waterways.
O'Connor said Northland was not as intensively farmed as some parts of New Zealand so issues with nitrogen runoff were less than in other parts of New Zealand. But sediment was a local issue that needed to be worked on.
He said the Government would not be further extending the new proposal's eight-week submission period.
O'Connor said the best thing Northland farmers could do in the face of the new standards was get a clear steer from the region's local government on the objectives and standards they would be requiring for the new standards' implementation.
O'Connor is not immune from the consequences of the proposed new standards. They will mean extra costs on the O'Connor family farming operation in Westport.
He said he had no qualms about that. It was part of turning around the state of freshwater health in New Zealand.