Farmers are worried, confused and frustrated by uncertainty over whether and how to get Horizons Regional Council consent for intensive agriculture, Tararua Federated Farmers president Neil Filer says.

"Some people are furious, but for a lot it's head-in-the-sand stuff."

A council committee has voted to investigate changing the nitrogen leaching rules in the One Plan. Members heard on Wednesday that 50 to 90 per cent of those seeking consent for dairy farms and horticulture would not be able to get it.

Mr Filer is a Tararua dairy farmer whose application for consent was returned as incomplete when the Environment Court told the council it must follow the nitrogen leaching limits in its own plan. He's pleased the council is considering changing the limits.


In the meantime his advice to others in the same situation is to wait.

"My message is don't apply for resource consent. Don't waste money."

He's not saying to do nothing. He said farmers should stay as informed as possible - with modelling help from DairyNZ and Fonterra.

"Stay engaged. Get educated. It's actually quite fun modelling your farm."

Rangitikei/Manawatu Federated Farmers president Richard Morrison had a similar message.

"Keep calm and carry on is probably good advice."

The cost of getting the consent Mr Filer had embarked on would have been less than $10,000. Under the Environment Court's "very prescriptive" process he estimated it would be $30,000 to $40,000.

He doesn't want to pay that amount but thinks he will keep making environmental improvements regardless.


"I don't mind spending that much on environmental works but I certainly don't want to spend it on a bunch of cockabully counters."

Horizons started asking farmers to get consent at one end of Tararua, and Mr Filer's dairy farm is at the other end. It's low-intensive, grass-based "old-school New Zealand dairy", he said.

It's now "unauthorised", like about 200 others in the process of applying for consent.

He could stop winter cropping, double the size of his effluent area, keep his stock number below the rate his consent allows and not apply nitrogen during winter. Those changes would reduce his nitrogen leaching by 10-15 per cent. He would have to build an expensive herd home to reduce it any further.

His leaching was at 21kg of nitrogen per hectare per year when first estimated. Later estimates put it at about 38kg.

He doesn't want his farm to be leaching nitrogen.

"As soon as a piece of nitrogen gets away from my farm, it upsets me. I could have made some money with that nitrogen."

He takes some comfort from Horizons' repeated assurances that water quality in the region is improving.

"I'm quite comfortable in myself that we are on the right track."

The current delay in decision making is frustrating some, he said.

"We have older farmers who want to sell, and younger farmers who want to buy. It's very hard to move ahead when there's uncertainty around."