Government to repeal winter grazing rules for farmers in first Resource Management Act Amendment Bill

The Coalition plans to make multiple adjustments to freshwater regulations introduced by the previous Government as part of promised Resource Management Act (RMA) reforms. 

Agriculture Minister Todd McClay said on Tuesday Cabinet had agreed to winter grazing and stock exclusion regulation changes to a "more risk-based, catchment-focussed approach". 

"Regional councils tell us there have been significant improvements in winter grazing practices, with farmers changing where they plant fodder crops and how they manage winter grazing," McClay said in a statement. 

"The national requirement for farmers to obtain prescriptive and expensive winter grazing consents is being removed in time for the 2025 season, and instead being managed through good practice and regional council plans." 

As part of the first tranche of RMA reforms, the Government also said resource consent applications wouldn't need to demonstrate their activities followed the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management while that statement is reviewed and replaced. 

McClay said this would "better reflect the interests of all water users". 

Todd McClay.
Todd McClay. Photo credit: AM

In addition, the Government said it was amending stock exclusion regulations in relation to sloped land. 

"We're proposing to remove the problematic and contentious low slope map and for regional councils and farmers to determine where stock needs to be excluded, based on risk," McClay said. 

"The focus is on farm-level and regionally suitable solutions. This will reduce costs for farmers." 

Associate Environment Minister Andrew Hoggard, the former president of Federated Farmers, said dialogue with the rural sector suggested "the current system is too complex, so the Government is working at pace to simplify and improve the freshwater farm plan system". 

"We have heard that many in the sector would like existing environmental programmes, including farm environment plans and industry assurance programmes, to be integrated with the freshwater farm plan system." 

In a statement, Chris Bishop said the first RMA Amendment Bill focused on giving "certainty to councils and consent applicants" by making targeted changes that could quickly take effect. 

Chris Bishop.
Chris Bishop. Photo credit: Newshub.

"This Bill will reduce the regulatory burden on resource consent applicants and support development in key sectors, including farming, mining and other primary industries," the RMA Reform Minister said. 

He said such sectors were "critical" to rebuilding New Zealand's economy. 

Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) welcomed the certainty Tuesday's announcement provided for councils.

President Sam Broughton noted it would've "been a waste of time and resources for councils to implement requirements we know will be repealed later".

"More substantial RMA reform is desperately required and LGNZ will continue to work with the Government on this," Broughton said.

RMA Bill 1 was expected to be introduced to Parliament next month and passed into law later this year. 

While Federated Farmers praised the Bill as the Government ending the "war on farming", the Opposition said the changes would be a "disaster for the environment".

"These changes are being pushed through fast to avoid public scrutiny. They will water down rules that prevent our rivers from being polluted and our native species being protected," Labour environment spokesperson Rachel Brooking said.

"This comes at the same time the Government is pushing through the Fast Track Approvals Bill, which will give projects such as coal mines a 'get out of jail free card' to wreak havoc on the environment and take us further from our net zero by 2050 goal.

"Which one will the Government push through first? The one that will open the door to lobbyists and foreign mining companies? Or the one that will see our rivers more polluted?"