Extra monitoring and a range of practical support is being rolled out to help farmers achieve immediate improvements in intensive winter grazing practices, Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor has announced.
Intensive winter grazing is a farming practice where livestock, such as cattle and sheep, progressively graze areas planted with fodder crops.
It was widely acknowledged that, if done poorly or too extensively, the activity had serious negative effects on both animal welfare and the environment, particularly freshwater and estuary health.
The Ministry for Primary Industries, Ministry for the Environment, councils and industry representatives, developed an online tool to help improve practices to benefit freshwater quality and animal welfare, O'Connor said.
"The 2021/22 Intensive Winter Grazing Module highlights practical solutions farmers can take to mitigate the effects of grazing livestock on fodder crops during the winter months."
This included leaving a buffer of at least 5m next to waterways, grazing crops top down where they grew on a slope, and using portable water troughs to limit livestock movements, O'Connor said.
The module contained a template that farmers could use to develop a plan to manage their intensive winter grazing activities - if they didn't already have one, O'Connor said.
"Farmers with existing plans need to update them to reflect the expectations set in this module."
The module would be used to inform intensive winter grazing components of existing and new farm plans and enabled them to be tested and incorporated into wider certified freshwater farm plans when they were rolled out from early 2022.
In March, the Government deferred the introduction of intensive winter grazing practice regulations for a year until May 2022, O'Connor said.
"We want people to engage with this module so they will be ready for the upcoming changes."
Meanwhile, Environment Minister David Parker said increased monitoring and reporting by councils would help drive measurable improvements in intensive winter grazing.
"We expect regional councils and industry bodies to work together with farmers to implement and deliver positive change on the ground through this module."
It was important farmers ensured they were complying with their regional council's current rules on intensive winter grazing, Parker said.
Farmers' plans should include measures to provide adequate shelter during severe weather events and suitable space for livestock to sit down, O'Connor said.
"In Southland, staff from MPI and Environment Southland will be proactively visiting farms that may pose animal welfare or water quality risks to ensure they have effective plans in place to manage IWG, especially during periods of heavy rain."
A hotline (0800 FARMING), supported by industry and councils, was being provided as an opportunity for the community to give feedback.
People with concerns about animal welfare were encouraged to call MPI's animal welfare hotline on 0800 00 83 33.
Find out more about the 2021/2022 Intensive Winter Grazing Module here.