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Environment

New freshwater rules – preliminary analysis and next steps

B+LNZ has completed a preliminary assessment of the essential freshwater rules that became law on 5 August. The following email has been sent to farmers.
Thursday, 6 August 2020

Yesterday the Government released the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPS), National Environmental Standards for Freshwater (NES) and stock exclusion regulations. Copies of the new rules can be found here:

The rules are largely as expected but still areas of concern

While we still need to work through the details, the regulations released yesterday appear to largely reflect the revised freshwater package announced by the Government in May.

We were cautious in our response in May, noting that the devil would be in the detail – which is proving to be the case in some areas.

While we continue to work through the final policy and regulatory changes, our initial analysis shows not all of our recommendations were adopted – these recommendations would have ensured greater workability and practicality of new rules.

For example, our reading of the new rules is that in practice virtually all winter grazing is likely to need a consent next year, because of the stringency of some of the permitted requirements and because farmers will also need a certified farm plan to meet the permitted criteria.

While we’re largely happy with the stock exclusion rules for hill country, there is a provision that stock can only cross a waterway a maximum of twice a month, and there is no exceptions regime in the stock exclusion regulations eg for extensive lowland farming areas. We also remain concerned about the grandparenting provisions for winter forage grazing.

There are also a few new concepts or provisions in the regulations that we need to analyse so we can assess their implications. There is, for example, a new concept in the NPS that regional councils need to meet a baseline year e.g 2017 or earlier for water quality, and any movement from this level is considered to represent degradation and therefore has to be addressed. This is a fundamental change in approach, which will have significant implications for our communities when it is applied in regional plans.

What B+LNZ has done 

On your behalf, we’ve continued to advocate for changes. We’ve been working closely with DairyNZ and Federated Farmers, and with the Farming Leaders group which combines 11 industry groups. We’ve constantly sought to engage with officials and Ministers, and also raised issues with the Prime Minister.

Overall, the Government has taken into account some feedback since the start of this process, including:

  • narrowing of the various grandparenting provisions
  • improvements in stock exclusion for hill country
  • limiting stock exclusion requirements to waterbodies of one metre or wider
  • limiting the land uses caught in the change in land use restrictions and restricting the period these will apply
  • removal of the prescriptive freshwater module to a farm plan which would have grandparented farms to their existing stocking policies and systems.​​​​​​​​​​

However, this has been a long and tough process and we remain concerned about some elements. Even for at-risk activities, we believe some of the rules could have been more flexible for well-managed systems.

Next steps 

We’re now focused on developing resources to help you understand the new rules, what changes you’ll need to make, and when.

Some of the rules in the NES will apply from 3 September while others will be phased in over the next few years. For example, the winter grazing rules will apply from now, but from a practical perspective won’t apply until next winter, though farmers will start to make decisions in the next few months. The stock exclusion rules will be phased in over the next couple of years.

The requirements of the NPS will be incorporated into regional council plans, which will need to be updated over the next three years. Implementation will be key, and we will be engaging with regional councils to ensure the rules are applied consistently and fairly.

We’ll also be working closely with the Government on the development of farm plans. There’s a lot of detail that still need to be worked through on these. The Government has said that it supports an industry-led approach and we will be leading the development to ensure farm plans are practical and outcomes-based.

Information and support to look out for

  • Next week, we’ll publish a factsheet containing a preliminary summary of the new rules.
  • In the next few weeks, we’ll seek to run a national webinar with farmers to talk through the new rules.
  • In the coming months, we’re also intending to hold some of meetings with farmers around the country to go through the changes (potentially leveraging off existing meetings such as Farmer Council AGMs) – and we’ll develop relevant resources, including work on farm plans.

Recognition 

We want to thank all farmers who have taken the time to provide feedback to B+LNZ and the Government over the last year.

I also want to take this opportunity to acknowledge B+LNZ staff who have worked tirelessly on your behalf and for their tenacity and professionalism.

While the outcome is far from perfect, we have achieved improvements on what was originally proposed. The release of these regulations also brings certainty for farmers and we can now start to plan.

The environment is a top priority for B+LNZ because farmers have told us this is important. We will continue to advocate for sensible policy outcomes that work both for the environment and for farmers, and that recognise the good work that’s already happening.