Update on B+LNZ work on environmental rules

// B+LNZ

B+LNZ is committed to keeping farmers updated on the issues that are important to them. The following email about new environmental rules was sent to farmers on 25 November 2020 and further updates will be provided when available.

waterways running through farm

We’re continuing to hear that environment regulations, particularly freshwater, are concerning farmers right now. We share your concern, so I wanted to give you an update on the work B+LNZ is doing.

The key thing to note is that we have farmers’ backs, and we won’t stop advocating for you.

This email outlines how we’re:

  • pushing for better rules – including fixes to the unworkable aspects of the new freshwater rules and for restrictions on carbon farmingoffsets to address wholesale land use change
  • working on practical tools that minimise the cost and time of compliance and add value to your farm businesses.

And there’s a summary of what you need to know now.

Engagement with the Government and officials

  • In the last couple of weeks we’ve met with the Prime Minister, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor and Environment Minister David Parker, and we’ll seek meetings in the coming weeks with Climate Change Minister James Shaw and newly appointed Forestry Minister Stuart Nash.
  • Our focus has been on changes to the essential freshwater rules, making progress on the certified freshwater farm plan, holding them to their promises on issues like carbon farming, and asking for a pause on new environmental rules.
  • We’re also collaborating with other industry groups on these issues.

Essential freshwater – getting impractical rules fixed

Farmers have identified three key issues with the freshwater rules – here’s what we’re doing about them.

1. Arbitrary re-sowing dates for winter grazing on forage crops, which many farmers aren’t able to meet because of climatic and soil conditions.

  • This is being looked at now as part of the Minister-mandated process led by Environment Southland to review the winter grazing rules and identify potential solutions to issues – which could also be applied across New Zealand.
  • B+LNZ is part of this process and is actively advising on practical solutions, guided by our belief that an overall effects-based approach for winter crops is a more practical and effective approach. 
  • We’re testing potential approaches with a variety of farmers nationwide and feeding this input into the group.
  • We’ll provide updates as soon as we can.

2. Unworkable pugging standards, and the lack of clarity about how they’ll be implemented and enforced.

  • Again, this is being looked at through the Environment Southland-led process and we’re pushing hard for workable solutions.

3. Inaccuracies in the low-slope map for stock exclusion. 

  • Government and officials have publicly acknowledged these need to be addressed.
  • We’ve been meeting with officials, making the case that the map should be replaced with a general rule that regional councils would be empowered to give effect to. This could be through either a 10 degree slope-trigger at the paddock scale or by undertaking their own regional mapping.
  • MfE is also asking for feedback from farmers to better understand the scale of the issues and to help identify solutions. We strongly encourage farmers to provide feedback through the MfE website if your land is incorrectly identified as low-slope, as this will support our advocacy efforts.

We encourage farmers to talk to their regional council about how the new freshwater rules will be enforced in their area.

Identifying pathways for farmers

Farmers have strongly told us they want help identifying pathways forward, including through the new rules.

  • In addition to fixing aspects of the rules, our focus is on providing farmers with the right tools at the right time to help them meet requirements. That’s why we’ve published updated resources about winter grazing on our website and more resources will follow as soon as we can provide them.
  • A key tool will be B+LNZ’s new farm plan as outlined below.
  • We’re also developing a timeline showing what needs to happen when, in relation to the freshwater and climate change rules.

Farm plans as the key pathway

  • We’ve updated the B+LNZ farm plan to cover water, biodiversity, climate change and soils. 
  • We’re currently talking to the Government about approving relevant parts of our farm plan system as meeting the requirements for a certified freshwater farm plan, because the plan will deliver freshwater health outcomes while also minimising cost and duplication for farmers.
  • The farm plan takes a holistic approach to environmental management with integrated modules across water, soils, climate change and biodiversity. Farmers can make decisions knowing that action taken in one area, such as in meeting regulatory requirements, will complement work in other areas and take broad sustainability (including financial sustainability) into account. If you’ve already completed LEP1, 2 or 3 the updated farm plan will build on that foundation.
  • We’ve built a modular plan that gives farmers the ability to address particular issues as they need to.
  • We believe the B+LNZ farm plan will not only offer farmers good business information but provide a foundation to tell your environmental stewardship story and meet market assurance requirements – as well as meeting regulations.
  • The new farm plan will be rolled out in early 2021, once we have some clarity about the certified freshwater farm plan process.
  • B+LNZ is resourcing this work to help farmers access the farm plans and supporting tools. A new B+LNZ staff member, Ron Pellow, has been appointed to lead this and will work with B+LNZ’s teams and external partners.

Update on climate change

  • We’re continuing to advocate for restrictions on the amount of fossil fuel emissions that can be offset by carbon farming, because of concerns over the amount of sheep and beef land being converted to forestry. 
  • Nearly all political parties recognised this issue in the lead-up to the election, including Labour. However, we’re not convinced the best solution is restricting the conversion of ‘productive land’ by regional councils through the resource consent process. We’re currently working on alternative solutions. 
  • We’re working productively with other sector groups, the Government and Māori on climate change through He Waka Eke Noa. Our key aim is to put farmers in control of their own destiny and ensure they get credit for sequestration on their farms.
  • Farm plans are closely linked to this work, as they’ll be a way to help farmers measure and manage on-farm emissions. The B+LNZ farm plan includes a climate change module to assist farmers.
  • A big focus for 2021 and 2022 will be helping sheep and beef farmers to calculate their greenhouse gas emissions (principally methane and nitrous oxide) and the sequestration they may have on farm. B+LNZ will be working with a range of tool and service providers to help farmers understand this over the next two years.
  • We’ll provide a more detailed update early in 2021.

Update on proposed biodiversity rules

  • We’ve been very vocal about seeking a pause on any further national environmental policies, such as the draft National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity.
  • Farmers need to be given time to successfully work their way through the new freshwater and climate change rules before further policies are introduced.
  • We continue to work hard to ensure policy is workable when it is eventually introduced.

What you need to know now

  • These changes don’t all have to happen right now. We’ll provide support when you need to do things and will show you how to integrate requirements into your business as part of a farm plan.
  • There will be some changes over time, so you should keep up to date – but be assured we’ll be providing updates and resources.
  • The freshwater rules are first up – see the section above for what you can do now, especially around getting involved, whether through providing feedback to MfE about the low-slope map inaccuracies or talking to your regional council.

As always, we’re happy to hear from you. You can drop me a line by reply or you can talk to one of our extension managers.