The Government's water proposals will not work as a one-size-fits-all plan when it comes to dairy and sheep and beef farmers, says Sam McIvor. The Beef+Lamb chief executive spoke to The Country's Jamie Mackay, along with DairyNZ chief executive Dr Tim Mackle about the Action Plan for Healthy Waterways which was announced yesterday.

While both Mackle and McIvor said they welcomed the idea behind the freshwater plan, they still have concerns for their industries.

Government figures showed the average annual cost on the proposals would be $9350 for a lowland dairy farm, but a hill country sheep and beef farmer could be looking at $14,850.

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Fencing waterways was harder for hill country farmers and McIvor said Beef+Lamb NZ strongly rejected a land use change moratorium for sheep and beef farms.

He also said the Government was using the wrong tools when it came to this kind of farming, focusing on nitrogen which was "not an issue".

Sediment, e coli and phosphate were problems on sheep and beef farms said McIvor, and fencing on hill country was not the solution.

"They're targeting those that have the least impact on water quality with the greatest cost, and giving us the least flexibility to change".

McIvor hinted the Government's focus on cattle in waterways was due to intensive farming, which was an issue for dairy rather than sheep and beef.

"In rough terms if we look at our hill country intensity, we're talking about one animal to three hectares in rough terms on our sheep and beef farms".

Photo / File
Photo / File

Mackle disagreed, saying AgResearch data showed dairy was responsible for 47 per cent of the rural nitrogen footprint nationwide "which means other land uses, not just sheep and beef, but hort, are also big contributors together".

Although sheep and beef farming may not be as intensive, any small increase in nitrogen on these farms could have a large impact on the amount of nitrogen and phosphate going into a catchment said Mackle.


"The issue is it's not about per hectare, it's about total load" and AgResearch's data showed 21 per cent of phosphate and only 9 per cent of sediment came from dairy Mackle said.

Both men agreed on the importance of protecting New Zealand's waterways, but said that the time frame of 2025 was not enough to make the changes the Government was proposing.

"We've been on board with this. We'll continue to keep working on it, but we've got some concerns" said Mackle.

"We think the ambition is right here ... what we think is they're taking the wrong route to get there" said McIvor.