NGO principles echo B+LNZ, sheep and beef farmer perspectives over freshwater regulations

The Healthy Water Healthy Future statement issued by environment, health, recreation, and water infrastructure groups today has significant alignment with the feedback from more than 3,000 sheep and beef farmers who have attended dozens of freshwater meetings over the last three weeks, including 25 hosted by Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ).
Thursday, 17 October 2019

“Our farmers support the intent of the government’s proposals and are working to address the sheep and beef sector’s specific issues.  We support effective freshwater policies and the need for clear, science-based environmental bottom lines that protect human and ecological health, as well as frameworks that empower farmers and communities to work together to achieve these,” says B+LNZ’s CEO Sam McIvor.

“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. 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.”

Feedback from B+LNZ’s meetings showed that farmers are committed to improving the health of New Zealand’s rivers and support the ultimate water quality goals of the government’s proposals, but are concerned that a straight-jacket, through a range of “grandparenting provisions”, is being placed on low-emitters – including most sheep and beef farmers – to mitigate against the impacts of high emitters.

“The Government is, in effect, placing high costs on our most environmentally sustainable and low impact farming systems,” says Mr McIvor.

The Government’s freshwater proposals would lock in existing land uses – supposedly for five years - but the flow on impacts for productivity, land values, and farm succession would endure far beyond that.

“It’s grandparenting of existing discharge rights, irrespective of impact, and we struggle to see how the Government can see it otherwise, as 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.”

“We’re keen to work with the government and, with some small but significant changes (such as removing grandparenting and using rule-laden farm environment plans as a regulatory tool), we should be able to get a result that meets environmental needs, but more fairly reflects the impacts that various farming systems are having on New Zealand’s freshwater quality.” 

ENDS

Notes for editors:

Sheep and beef farms generally have very low nitrogen leaching rates, an average of 14-17kg per hectare per year (which is only just above forestry’s average of 9kg per hectare). There are no land use change options available to most extensive sheep and beef farmers that do not increase their N emissions, aside from forestry. 

The grandparenting provisions are significant, because they provide no flexibility for low emitting systems to make the adjustments needed to pay for the increased compliance costs under the essential freshwater proposals or to adapt to changing market or climatic conditions.

Under the land use change restrictions, freshwater module, and hill country cropping provisions, low emitting systems won’t be able to do anything that would increase their emissions even by a small amount, such as diversifying into crops or using cropping for feed to improve their productivity, to offset these compliance costs. 

Modelling by Local Government New Zealand estimates that under these proposals, land under sheep and beef production in the Waikato-Waipa catchment could decline by 68 percent, illustrating how significant an impact of these proposals could have on the sector. This land was predicted by the modelling to go into forestry.  

For more information, please contact B+LNZ’s Senior Communications Advisor Gwynn Compton on 027 838 6353.