The Government's freshwater reforms have ruffled a few rural feathers, with some critics calling the changes "draconian" and "onerous."

There are three areas of concern for farmers around regulations that will affect winter grazing - pugging, slope and resowing time.

Farmers, especially those in Otago and Southland, are worried these new rules have been decided without practical consultation from the rural sector.

Today, in a highly anticipated interview on The Country, Jamie Mackay spoke to the man behind the regulations, Minister for the Environment David Parker, to get his side of the story.

Advertisement

There are two parts to today's interview:

Part one deals with farmers' concerns around winter grazing rules.
Part two sees Parker answer a couple of farmer questions and deflect Mackays' suggestion that he "dislikes farmers."

Part One: Pugging, slope and resowing changes

Mackay: Your pugging regulations are unrealistic. Under this scenario it's basically impossible to winter animals outdoors in Otago and Southland.

Parker: Well I've seen winter grazing on low slope land in winter that would meet these regulations. So I don't accept that.

Mackay: You get a week of rain David - there's no way that any farmer could meet your criteria.

Parker: I remember one farm that the Southland Regional Council took me to because they thought it was a good example, where in respect of the wettest time of year they had a barked area where they could remove their cows to so that they didn't pug the area that was intensively grazed.

The intensively grazed areas, they had reserved the low lying swales in them so that they acted as a filter. They had their nearby streams fenced off and I had a look at the streams and despite their intensive grazing enterprises ... their streams were protected - so it can be done.

Mackay: I'm not going to change your mind on these numbers obviously, but who was the bright spark who came up with the November 1 resowing time after a winter crop? Because I know that you haven't been an active farmer - I was for a number of years - and I can tell you from first hand experience, in Southland it's totally impractical. Why do you put these stupid regulations out there that are impossible to meet?

Parker: They're not stupid regulations. They have been developed and modified as a consequence of the consultation process. The original date was 1 October, it was modified for Southland and Otago for 1 November. Now if people aren't going to replant within those days and times they're going to have to go to the regional council and convince them that their proposed methodology for intensive winter grazing is sufficient to protect the environment. If it is - they'll get a resource consent. If it isn't - they won't and they shouldn't.

Mackay: You're just driving farmers to farming by consent. Do you realise what a time wasting exercise you're putting the productive sector through here David?

Parker: Well that's your opinion Jamie.

Mackay: Well it's the opinion of every farmer I talk to.

Parker: Jamie, the status quo that you think needs to be improved for parts of Southland and Otago in some of the winter grazing has been indefensible. It's been indefensible for years and it hasn't be fixed. It is our role as government to protect our waterways and we think these measures are appropriate.

Advertisement

Now, where there are details that can be improved, we improve them. We did that recently by addressing some of the definitions of pugging, which we accepted were imperfect.

So these things can be improved over time - but I've got to say - there's been decades of poor practice in Southland and parts of South Otago that have not been properly brought under control by either farmers themselves, or by regional council, and it's our role to try and make things better.

Part One: Listen to the full interview below:

Mackay: David, with all due respect, you wouldn't have a clue about resowing a paddock after brassicas into grass - but I'll leave it at that. Here's a question from Bernadette Hunt, Federated Farmers Southland vice president. She says in Southland, there are farmers whose business exists solely to provide intensive winter grazing for dairy farmers. Many of these farmers are no longer willing to offer this service because these rules make it so hard. But the rules also prevent anyone else from expanding the scale of their winter grazing or from taking on winter grazing if they haven't done it before. How do you foresee those hundreds or thousands of "displaced" cows getting fed next winter?

Parker: That's not correct Jamie. That's not correct. What is correct is that if there is going to be a significant increase in scale of intensive winter grazing then a resource consent will need to be applied for. It needs to be applied for from when the regulations come into effect which is 1 May next year. So those that are already doing it they can continue their practice even beyond 1 May next year, so long as they either meet the standards or apply for a resource consent by the 31st October next year.

So these things aren't just coming in like a guillotine over night. They are being transitioned in and we're working through those transitional details with the likes of the Southland Regional Council who I have to say have been very responsible.

Mackay: You're going to put a huge load on regional councils to implement all this David. Have you got the resources to do it?

Parker: I think these things can be done well. We've got an implementation group so that we're not reinventing the wheel [in] every part of the country for all the different details of this.

[The group] includes MPI, MFE, regional councils, Beef and Lamb, DairyNZ, Horticulture New Zealand, some Māori interests, some environmental groups - so yeah, we're determined to implement these in a way that works.

Also in Part One: Parker talks about his background in environmental and farming issues, his "war" with Federated Farmers and who actually read the 1700 submissions around the freshwater reforms.

Advertisement

Part Two: Farmer questions

Mackay: Let me throw a couple of farmer questions at you, and you might have a simple answer for these. Here's one from a guy who says if the 10 degree gradient comes in, my breeding/fattening property will become a store property reducing my income by $150,000. I ask you Minister Parker, do you think that is a fair result?

Parker: Look I don't know the details of that particular farm. But if that farm is able to show to the regional council that if they have intensive grazing on slopes that are higher than 10 degrees, that they've got the appropriate buffer strips, that they're using the appropriate practices to bring up the electric fence behind the areas that have previously been grazed - so they're not pugging it excessively - that they're ploughing across the slope, rather than vertically up and down the slope - they may get a resource consent.

If, on the other hand, this can't be done in a way that prevents tens of tonnes of sediment being lost per hectare per annum into adjacent waterways - then they won't get one.

Part Two: Listen to the full interview below:

Mackay: Here's another one and you've perhaps answered this one, but I'll throw it out there. Question for Mr Parker - if you have the grass buffer zones around any water exit points off the paddock - then what is the science that says that pugging is bad for the waterways? So I guess this guy's saying, yes we might lose a bit of sediment off the top soil under a winter grazing regime, but it's going to be caught and trapped in those buffer zones.

Parker: Well that may well be the case, and if that was the case then that person could probably get a resource consent.

But if you did the same thing and you did it immediately adjacent to a river without a buffer strip, then it will be going straight into the waterway - so this shows, I think, that on a case-by-case basis you actually need to have the right methods being adopted.

People might complain that you have to get a resource consent to do that, but with respect Jamie, that's because too many people have been doing it wrongly.

Also in Part Two: Parker insisted he wasn't "stubborn" and didn't "dislike farmers." He also rejected Mackay's statement that adding extra environmental pressure on the agriculture sector wasn't "killing the goose that laid the golden eggs."