Sunday, May 19, 2024

New plans afoot for freshwater farming

The coalition Government has today announced its intention to improve freshwater farm plans to make them more cost-effective and practical for farmers.

Associate Environment Minister, Andrew Hoggard says a fit-for-purpose freshwater farm plan system will enable farmers and growers to find the right solutions for their farm and catchment.

“Farmers faced an avalanche of regulation under the last Government, including its national Freshwater Farm Plans system,” he said.

“Using property and catchment specific farm plans makes sense because they can be used to identify environmental risks and plan practical on-farm actions to manage those risks.

“The current system is too costly and complex, and too broadly applied. We want to make sure that the cost of completing a farm plan, in both time and money, is matched with the level of risk.

“It is important that councils and the community can have confidence in the robustness of the freshwater farm plan system as an alternative to local rules and consents, where and when appropriate.

“We believe that farm plans should be able to highlight the work that many farmers and growers are already doing to reduce the impact of farming activities on the freshwater environment.”

Several regions have already started implementing freshwater farm plans in specific areas, including Waikato, Southland, the West Coast, Otago, and Manawatū-Whanganui.

“We want an enduring system that builds on the good work of farmers in these regions while making sure that any improvements to the system don’t result in sudden changes to plans already being developed. We are exploring how to make any changes fair for all farmers,” said Minister Hoggard.

“As part of this, we may look into whether current requirements to complete a freshwater farm plan could be paused while improvements are developed.”

Agriculture Minister, Todd McClay says decisions will be considered alongside the Government’s overall approach to freshwater management, including stock exclusion and winter grazing.

“We have heard that many in the sector would like existing environmental programmes to be recognised in the freshwater farm plan system.”

Officials are looking at ways to integrate existing farm environment plans or industry assurance programmes in the system.

“Certification and auditing requirements will also be considered, along with any support farmers need to develop robust freshwater farm plans.”

“This might include giving catchment groups more of a leadership role in developing and implementing improved freshwater outcomes,” Mr McClay says.

Freshwater Farm Plans (FW-FPs) were established under Part 9A of the Resource Management Act 1991 as a regulatory tool to help farmers and growers in identifying, managing, and reducing on-farm risks to freshwater. 

The FW-FP regulations started in August 2023 in Waikato and Southland, followed in February 2024 by Otago and the West Coast, and in April in Manawatū-Whanganui. Once the regulations have started in an area, farmers and growers have 18 months from the commencement date to submit a freshwater farm plan for certification. 

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