Farmers prefer a catchment by catchment approach to Government's overly bureaucratic Action for Healthy Waterways proposals, Whangaehu farmer Rob Craig says.

Wanganui Federated Farmers met on October 16 to discuss the proposals, which came out in early September and run to a lot of detail. About 60 attended and Craig said the mood was one of frustration and concern.

Farmers support the intention to improve water quality - but not the methods Government proposes.

The proposals have been rushed out without enough thought or economic modelling and will have unintended consequences for rural communities, Craig said.

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One proposed change is lower limits for nitrogen leaching into water. Craig said modelling done by Local Government New Zealand found enforcing those limits in Waikato would drastically reduce livestock farming and dramatically increase forestry.

Sheep and beef farms don't leach much nitrogen and Craig's mixed farm is surrounded by dairy. Under the proposals he can't change to dairy, because it would lift nitrogen leaching above his average for the last five years.

"That just takes away your flexibility to react. What does that do to my land value and the saleability of my farm?"

Low-leaching hill country farmers will also be asked to reduce. This "grandparenting" approach punishes low leachers and rewards high ones, Craig said.

"Even though you might be a low emitter you are going to have to show how you can get even lower. All those costs have to be met by the landowner, who can't make any money off the farm to meet those costs."

The proposals would require farm plans prepared by certified and costly consultants, he said. Farmers would prefer a whole of catchment approach, where one consultant could work across a large catchment and farmer dollars could be spent making changes, rather than planning them.

Craig liked the winter grazing proposals, but said excluding stock from waterways would be more of an issue. The proposals require an average 5m setback of fencing from waterways.

Fences that are closer would have to be moved, Craig said, and hill country farmers would struggle to do all the fencing required.

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The efforts farmers have made are already improving water quality, he said, and the Government's expectations are unrealistic.

Submissions on the proposals are due by October 31.