Key issues for farmers in new freshwater rules

// Freshwater

The requirements around winter grazing on forage crops, low-slope land mapping and certified farm plans are the big issues being raised by farmers in relation to the new essential freshwater rules.

We’ve been talking to farmers since the rules were released on 5 August (including a webinar with over 300 farmers this week) and significant concerns are being raised about the practicality of some rules. 

B+LNZ is working hard to provide clarity and guidance to farmers so that you can understand your options, plan for the future, and get on with the business of farming. While we support farmers, we are also strongly advocating for changes at the national and regional level and for workable solutions with regional councils in your local areas.

Winter grazing

  • Farmers’ most immediate concerns are the stringent rules around winter grazing of forage crops, in particular the pugging rules and re-sowing dates, which mean it’s likely winter grazing on forage crops will either need a certified freshwater farm plan or require a consent next year.
  • We know this is top of mind as farmers are starting to think about paddock and crop selection now and we’re aiming to do a deep dive on what you need to think about for winter grazing in next week’s e-diary. In the meantime, we encourage farmers to think about strategic winter grazing principles and consider how these can be applied to your operations (more info here – note this factsheet recommends a 3-metre setback/buffer but the new rules require 5 metres).
  • Getting clarity on how regional councils will implement the rules and consenting processes is an urgent priority. We’ll be engaging closely with regional councils over the next month to seek a practical approach. We’re also working on resources to provide advice to farmers on what they need to do. 
  • Most farmers have been working hard on winter grazing management (particularly in Southland). Farmers understand the environmental risks and are making changes, but time and practicalities are key considerations for successful change.   
  • The Government’s amendments this week of the winter grazing rules around ‘small pugging’ (meaning 5cm deep) has provided a small point of certainty, but this hasn’t changed the overall effect. We’ll continue to advocate for more practical changes that still deliver better freshwater health outcomes.  

Low slope land mapping

  • Many farmers are reporting that even steep parts of their farms are classified as low slope (less than 10 degrees) in the map used in the stock exclusion requirements, and are concerned they’ll have to fence waterways on that land.
  • The map is obviously problematic due to it being too coarse a scale. We are advocating for either accurate paddock-based mapping or getting rid of the map altogether and rather relying on a slope trigger, as a few regional councils do already.
  • In the interim we encourage farmers to do two things. Where you want to graze cattle on land you know for certain is low slope, start to pull together a fencing plan for rivers that are greater than a stride wide.
  • For farmers who are caught by the map and have steep slope identified as low slope, we have some time to try and work through this problem, such as pushing for better accuracy through regional plans. We encourage farmers affected by map inaccuracies to engage with their regional council so that they can understand the scale of the problem and find workable solutions. 

Certified freshwater farm plans

  • Certified farm plans will be a likely requirement for farmers in the future and are currently an alternative pathway through some of the new rules such as winter grazing of forage crops, or when using stockholding areas.
  • These plans, however, are not currently defined by either the Government or regional councils.
  • Until these plans exist, farmers do not have an alternative pathway to seeking consent for some activities.
  • We therefore need to make progress quickly on defining what a certified farm plan is and how they’ll be rolled out. We’re focused on the development of an industry-led approach to farm plans to ensure they’re practical and outcomes-based.
  • One option we’re pursuing is the recognition of existing industry endorsed farm plans, or alternatively the insertion of a module to existing farm plans where necessary.

How to find more information

  • Watch our recent webinar – which also includes a comprehensive Q&A session at the end covering questions not answered during the main webinar. Watch the recording here.
  • Read our joint factsheet with Federated Farmers. We’re also working on further specific information on each of the rules. 
  • We’re also setting up meetings around the country. A number of meetings have already been put in place for the South Island including in Alexandra, Blenheim, Greymouth and Haast. Check out your Regional e-diary for forthcoming events. 
  • There’s also information on our Essential Freshwater Consultation webpage and you can watch B+LNZ’s Corina Jordan on Sarah’s Country.

In summary, we recommend you go through our technical documents above, think about your farm, identify the things you’re on top of in terms of the new rules and identify the rules that will cause problems or you need clarity on, and get in touch with your local extension manager.