COMMENT: Tararua Federated Farmers

The latest water regulations highlight the disconnect between regulators, ministers, and farmers. We have water regulations that are not fit for purpose.

What's noticeable is that regulators write regulations that Government ministers want, in a way that there are numbers and dates so that you can prosecute farmers. Gone is the language that up to now has seen partnerships formed, ie. around industry best practice, catchment group outcomes. Now it's 5cm, 190kg or October 1.

Sometimes farming isn't glamorous - looking after stock is our priority.
Sometimes farming isn't glamorous - looking after stock is our priority.

The totally impractical parts - like the inaccurate mapping, pugging, and winter grazing are now law.

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Mapping. Last September the freshwater proposals identified 5.8 million hectares in NZ as low slope land. Regulatory map covers 9.6m ha. This is lazy work with someone sitting clicking on titles rather than getting accurate available data. Last week saw Minister Damien O'Connor acknowledge this would need revision. But currently it is in law.

Pugging. Today I feel like a criminal because one 450kg beast made more than a 20cm footprint in the middle of a winter crop area. One local farmer had cattle huddle together the other night and he was so worried about public perception that he whipped the tractor and roller out the next day to flatten the footprints in case they were perceived as pugging. Farmers do not set out to trash the soil.

Winter cropping. You might ask "Why winter crop?" My thoughts as a beef farmer …

■ Less soil damage done by having stock on a crop rather than wandering around on hills.

■ A crop on up to 20 per cent slope is beneficial for animals - drier resting place to sleep.

■ Industry best guidelines have certainly helped improve how we manage and graze the crops and where they are planted. Plans consider relationships to waterways, number of animals, feed available and water supply. The last thing I want as a farmer is to see my best soil leave the farm, every effort is made to ensure minimal damage to the soil.

■ 6ha of crop feeds 120 of our biggest animals. Well-fed, happy and healthy is our aim, plus minimal damage to pastures.

■ We rotationally crop about every 10ish years when we "open the soil" and it is a founding part of our mixed sward, regenerative, rotational grazing system.

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What are implications of freshwater regulations?

Consent costs. In 2011 we entered a partnership with Horizons Regional Council with the aim of improving our environmental footprint. The plan cost $8500 to prepare. Tararua Hill Country farmers (260 so far) have entered into these same agreements voluntarily. When you notice poplar poles on the hillsides, waterways fenced off, pines on steep hillsides, or native areas – these are often a direct result of farmers working with Horizons to improve water quality.

Why add new consent costs to this ($1500-$50,000 a year – unknown at this stage) when positive outcomes are starting to show through in water quality? Will the cost of consents be at the expense of environmental projects on farm? Locally we are also seeing the very positive collaborative catchment groups established. All community members become involved in collecting data to help identify and design ways to improve local waterways.

The rushed nature of these regulations is telling when the regional councils don't even know how they will regulate. By October 1 all crops must be re-sewn. Simply: if it's wet you can't. Machines will get stuck and seeds rot in the ground if it's a wet season. Farmers like vege gardeners want these areas producing asap.

As the local Federated Farmers Tararua co-president, I'd like to have a positive conversation around these regulations, sadly farmers are disbelieving of how out of touch regulators are. Concerns have been raised re. our levy bodies going into a group to implement the regulations under Minister David Parker's condition of not trying to change the regulations.

It does sound like a Yes Minister scenario. Fed Farmers advocate for practical policies that both improve water outcomes and ensure we can continue to farm. Rest assured, our silence will not be bought off to gain a seat at the table.

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Empower farmers by letting them get on with the job. Meat processors along with dairy companies now have the right to not accept stock or produce from anyone not meeting standards so this will see uptake of best practice without needless regulations. Indeed, we had our farm assurance audit earlier this week where all our farming systems were checked out, so why duplicate?

Feedback is welcomed. 027 4238997, Sally Dryland.