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Mandatory farm plans scorned as 'tick box' exercises

Thursday 17th October 2019

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Lobbyists spanning public health, environmental, infrastructure and recreation groups oppose plans to introduce mandatory freshwater plans for farms, saying clear and explicit rules are a better way to manage high-polluting activities. 

The Public Health Association, Forest & Bird, Fish & Game, Environmental Defence Society, Recreation Aotearoa, Greenpeace, Water New Zealand, Whitewater NZ and Choose Clean Water pooled their efforts to respond to government proposals on improving the nation's freshwater quality.

They came up with four fundamental policies, including opposing the use of farm plans as regulatory instruments, as clear rules were the best way to achieve the government's goal of measurable improvements within five years, they said in a joint statement. 

"We do not support replacing effective rules with farm plans. This will lead to farm plans becoming a 'tick box' exercise for compliance," the group said.

"They would fail to be used to their greatest potential to drive real environmental change." 

Submissions on a Ministry for the Environment consultation paper on ways to govern the country's waterways close at the end of the month. The government's proposals were estimated to cost at least $1 billion over 10 years, and have been a bugbear for a farming sector already under pressure from tighter access to credit. 

The umbrella group didn't go soft on the farming sector, with its second policy urging the government to take a tougher approach when setting pollution limits to avoid letting the biggest polluters lock-in their current levels. 

The group supported a prohibition on conversions to highly-polluting land uses such as dairy farming, and restricting certain activities such as winter grazing until councils have a plan on how to manage pollution within environmental limits. 

It also backed strong pollution limits as proposed by the government and recommended by scientists. 

Beef + Lamb New Zealand - the sheep and beef farming lobby - said the joint statement aligned with much of what its 3,000 farmers have told it about improving freshwater quality. 

"The main concerns that have been raised by sheep and beef farmers are that that the current proposals would reward the highest nitrogen leaching operations and penalise the farming systems with the lightest environmental touch," chief executive Sam McIvor said in a statement. 

"We are pleased that environmental groups have also raised this as an area that needs to be changed, and that they also agree that farm plans should not be used as regulatory tools."

McIvor said locking in existing land uses for five years would flow into productivity, land value and farm succession beyond that time frame. 

"It’s grandparenting of existing discharge rights, irrespective of impact, and we struggle to see how the government can see it otherwise," he said. "These proposals would prevent the small changes in farming systems on low-emitting farms that would be needed to offset the additional costs to comply with other parts of the proposed regulations." 

The environmental groups' final policy was for all sectors, regions and communities to contribute to improving water quality. They oppose an exemption proposed for the country's six largest hydro-schemes. 


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