By Nicholas Pointon of RNZ

Over 250 South Canterbury farmers met with government officials yesterday, to vent their frustrations over the new freshwater policy.

Earlier this month, the government announced its plan to restore and protect freshwater in New Zealand from contamination.

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At a meeting in Timaru, farmers told Ministry for the Environment officials that aspects of the policy were hazy and unrealistic.

Farmers travelled from as far as North Otago to express their concerns over the new policy, including the short period they had to make submissions.

One farmer sent a clear message to the ministry's chief water advisor, Bryan Smith, that eight weeks was not enough.

"We need more time to understand some of the intricacies of this document. It's huge. It's complex. There's a lot of ramifications and you need to do some studies on some of the economic impacts of this policy.

"So I think that's one of the biggest messages strong messages that need to be taken back to the government."

Vegetable farmer, Don Mcfarlane, echoed the same sentiment. He said the brief window had left farmers feeling like the policy was being imposed on them.

"It's insufficient, and politically it's not very smart. It's better to let these things work there way through and really arrive at a very good consensus, rather than be seen to be imposing [a consensus] in a very short consultation period."

Support for the plan


Not everyone at the meeting were frustrated farmers.

Aaron Wilson-Jones, who owns a lifestyle block in Timaru, supported the policy and issued a strong message to the farmers who were present.

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"You've got a 90-year plan but what happens if we don't do this? What will our water ways look like in 90 years? I'm seeing them pretty bad now and shouldn't our discussion be around actually lifting it up, planting more trees and getting it right? Rather than protecting our interests? Why don't we as Kiwis actually plant trees and lift up our water ways."

He said something needed to change in time for the next generation to benefit.

"Where are we going to be in 300 years, how about my children, and their children, and their children? Where are we going? I want my children to be able to swim in the water ways."

Opposition abounds

Sheep and beef farmer, Nicky Hyslop, said she also wanted her children to be able to swim in the waterways near their farm.

She said it was not that farmers weren't in support of the policy, but that they felt aggrieved because they had not been consulted properly.

"We absolutely want to see an improvement in our waterways, but the package that's been put forward feels incredibly prescribed from central government."

A dairy farmer near Waimate, John Gregan, said change was needed, but had to be realistic.

He said proposed nitrate levels of 1 millogram per litre were not feasible.

"When you compare [the levels proposed in the policy] with the rivers in Europe for example, no one's meeting those standards over there, only a handful of countries like Iceland and Finland are."

Agricultural countries were unable to meet such a strict standard, he said.

Mr Gregan believed the government would have no choice but to work with farmers and find are more realistic standard.

The ministry is running a series of consultation meetings with farmers which will wrap up next week.

The public has until 31 October to make their final submissions on the proposal.