After being "caught out" by feedlots, the Hawke's Bay Regional Council is being applauded for taking a "zero tolerance approach" to them in future.

Feedlots are areas where concentrations of livestock are fed during winter.

Although the activity is permitted under the Regional Resource Management Plan (RRMP), concerns were raised earlier this year about environmental impacts - especially after it emerged several feedlots were near waterways, particularly the Tukituki River.

It appeared most feedlot operators were not complying with RRMP conditions, so the council have said they will be taking a "zero tolerance" approach to the practice.

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At a regional council meeting earlier this week, chairman Rex Graham said the council had been "clearly caught out".

"I will say greed drove this, and it wasn't good for our community, and it wasn't good for this council."

Although it was difficult "for [council] to be everywhere", Mr Graham said they could not allow the market to get ahead of them - as had happened in this situation.

Because it had now been found feedlot operators were not being compliant, "we're going to take a little bit of a bashing about that as well".

"This was driven by market forces, this was driven by cheap grain prices and high beef prices," he said.

"We need to have a bit of an understanding ... that people will do things, they will stretch the rules, and they stretched the rules and we looked like idiots because they did."

Fish & Game New Zealand chief executive Bryce Johnson has congratulated the council for the stand.

"The regional council decision to crack down on feedlots is the sort of leadership people are looking for to ensure their environmental heritage is properly protected," he said.

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This "crackdown on rule breakers" was overdue for the region, he said, and feedlots were causing increasing concern.

"The current methods being used by some feedlot operators is environmentally unacceptable. The environment is being degraded by effluent and sediment runoff from feedlots and the practice also raises animal welfare issues."

If feedlots do not meet RRMP rules a consent is required, and it will be monitored to ensure it meets consent conditions.

At the regional council meeting, manager resource use Wayne Wright said staff had realised their approach was "not actually working 100 per cent for us".

Previously feedlots were addressed through the council's land management, who worked with farmers to try to "minimise any harmful effects on the environment whilst balancing the practicalities of farming practices".

While there had been some success not all farmers adopted staff recommendations, so council escalated their approach.

In July compliance staff carried out inspections of feedlots, and most didn't comply with RRMP rules.

Staff visited five feedlots, and found there appeared to be a misunderstanding with farmers on how the rules should be applied.

Yesterday Federated Farmers Hawkes Bay provincial president Will Foley said it had been difficult for farmers to adapt to new rules around their operations since Plan Change 6 came out.

"I'd definitely say it's been a bit of a grey area, not just with feedlots but a whole lot of things," he said.

However there had been discussions between the regional council and farmers on what might be having an effect on the environment, which had been "quite a learning experience".

At the meeting, Mr Wright told council there were 12 feedlots council had been working with on a regular basis, but there could be more staff were unaware of.

During winter, feedlots are used to keep cattle off pastures to stop damage to them, and other issues which could create harmful flow-on effects, and implications to farmers' systems down the track.

Because grass does not grow well during the colder period, the intensive feeding on the lots ensures farmers can keep their cattle, and keep them well fed.

Because winter was over, the report stated this was an "ideal opportunity" for the council to engage with the farming sector, and ensure future compliance.

Next season, council would be taking a "zero tolerance approach".

Mr Wright said if farmers could not operate with the RRMP rules, they would require a resource consent. It would be similar to those issued to dairy operations, meaning effluent would need to be collected, and discharged in an environmentally safe way.

"If they decide they don't want to go along that route and wish to test it, we tell them we're quite happy for them to test it in court," he said.

Mr Foley said he thought farmers would try to get up to speed with the new rules, so they could implement them by the start of next season.

"I think that farmers are well aware now that there are pressures on the environment, and certainly they don't want to have any more effect than anyone else.

"There's really good awareness amongst the farming public now, the only concern is around costs for mitigating factors."