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Environment

Spotlight on the proposed winter grazing rules

The winter grazing rules in the new environmental (freshwater) regulations are those that have the most immediate impact as farmers are starting to think about paddock and crop selection for next winter.
Thursday, 3 September 2020

The way the rules are currently written, it’s likely most farmers will need to seek a consent as the permitted activities are very stringent and there is no certified farm plan in place. Check out our joint factsheet with Federated Farmers for a summary of the rules: B+LNZ/Fed Farmers Factsheet on Essential Freshwater (PDF, 711KB)

On a positive note, Environment Southland has just released a legal opinion that farmers can carry out their winter grazing next winter without needing to seek a consent (in certain circumstances), but may need to apply for a consent under the new rules by 31 October 2021 (meaning they’d be applying for consent for winter 2022).

The legal opinion is that if you carried out intensive winter grazing in 2020 and you're not planning on making any changes to the scale, scope or intensity of your wintering, then you have what's called 'existing use rights'. This means you have a 6-month period to apply for a consent from when the wintering regulations come into force on 1 May 2021. 

If you are, however, planning on changing something about your winter grazing next year, then Environment Southland suggests farmers in its region have a chat with one of their team to see what they may need to do.

We are encouraging regional councils across the rest of the country to take a similar approach to Southland. It’s standard practice for businesses to have some time to transition to new rules.

This will also hopefully provide some time to work with the Government and regional councils on amending some of the rules to make them more practical, while also achieving the desired environmental outcomes.

We welcome that Minister Parker and Minister O’Connor are visiting Southland on Monday, and we will be advocating for a partnership approach to solve these issues.      

We acknowledge winter grazing has environmental impacts if not well managed, but the current proposed rules go beyond what is needed to manage these effects. B+LNZ and other industry organisations repeatedly raised concerns about the rules during the consultation, and while some changes were made, the fundamental issues being raised now were not addressed.

While the media has so far focused on the pugging and sowing dates, hill country farmers are extremely concerned about the blanket consent process for winter grazing on slopes above 10 degrees. There is no recognition in the rules that winter cropping on slopes can be well managed, delivering animal welfare and environmental benefits, as well as providing resilience.

In summary, practical changes to the winter grazing rules we’re seeking include: 

  • a more practical approach to managing soil health and potential soil loss to waterbodies than the current impractical pugging standards for winter grazing 
  • deletion of the 10-degree slope trigger so that winter grazing activities on forage crops are treated the same and any rules with respect to slope are outcomes focused 
  • more flexibility on the re-sowing dates
  • a clear definition for what’s considered ‘forage crop’ to limit the bite of these rules and provide clarity and certainty
  • delete the grandparenting standards (restrictions beyond what was cropped and grazed highest annual 2014–2019). 

Despite Environment Southland’s ruling, we are conscious many farmers want to start to plan and move towards meeting the new rules in the future. We’re updating our existing factsheets on paddock selection to reflect the new rules and will be releasing these in the next few weeks.

This story is focused on the winter grazing rules that have been top of mind for many farmers, but there are also significant concerns about the practicality of some of the other rules such as the accuracy of the low slope map that determines whether a farmer has to fence. 

See our story from last week summarising the concerns we’ve been hearing from farmers at the meetings we’ve had so far and be assured we’re continuing to advocate for sensible solutions to these issues.

The feedback we’ve had from farmers is that there is a strong desire to improve water quality and they are not wanting to throw the baby out with the bathwater, rather they are wanting improvements to some of the rules in the essential freshwater package to make them more practical.