'Deeply concerned': Farming groups react to Government's freshwater plans

Some rural groups are worried about the impact the Government's proposed standards to protect waterways will have on pastoral farming, claiming the plans could make it uneconomic.

The proposals were outlined in a draft National Policy Statement and National Environment Standards: Freshwater paper released on Thursday.

Under the plan, there would be restrictions on further intensification of land use through interim measures, and from June 2020 new irrigation or conversion to dairying could only go ahead where there is evidence it will not increase pollution.

Federated Farmers is unimpressed and claims the plan would make pastoral farming uneconomic in some areas.

Environment and water spokesperson Chris Allen said it would require parts of New Zealand to reduce their nitrogen by up to 80 percent.

Chris Allen said targets for nitrogen reduction, were unachievable in some parts of the country.
Chris Allen said targets for nitrogen reduction, were unachievable in some parts of the country. Photo credit: Supplied/Federated Farmers

"It becomes very hard to continue economically farming animals or growing vegetables under a regime like this," he said.

"The long term targets for nitrogen reduction, are effectively unachievable in some parts of the country, and will end pastoral farming in these areas," said Allen.

The sheep and beef sector said it also had significant concerns.

Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) said plans to lock down current land uses would have a disproportionate effect on the majority of sheep and beef farms that are low input, extensive systems with a light touch on the environment.

B+LNZ Chairman Andrew Morrison said the proposals were comprehensive and would take time to assess. 

"However, we are deeply concerned by some of the analysis we have seen - including modelling that suggests 68 percent of drystock farms in the Waikato/Waipa catchment would be converted into forestry as a direct result of the proposed regulations, while more intensive land uses largely remain the same," he said.

The plan was largely welcomed by Horticulture New Zealand.

HortNZ Chief Executive Mike Chapman said it was high time New Zealand took greater care of freshwater.

"The horticulture industry is right behind clearer policies for improving freshwater quality and looks forward to greater certainty, particularly where local government is concerned," he said.

However he said there were some concerns on whether the plans would limit the ability of growers to expand in response to our increasing population and replace land lost to urban development.

"We need time to work through what is proposed with our growers. That is why we will be holding meetings in addition to the ones that the Government is organising."

Agriculture Minister, Damien O’Connor said all farmers in New Zealand appreciated the value of high quality water, but the growth across agriculture had put more pressure on the waterways across the country.

"Farmers have done a huge amount of work to improve their practices over the last 20 years and some are leading the way in restoring our pristine waterways," he said. 

Damien O'Connor said the growth in agriculture had put pressure on waterways.
Damien O'Connor said the growth in agriculture had put pressure on waterways. Photo credit: File

"But more work needs to be done. The knowledge and skills of those exemplar farmers needs to be shared with others," said O'Connor.

He said the plan would provide the quality water that farmers, city dwellers and future generations wanted and deserved.

A $229 million package was announced in the 2019 Budget to support farmers lift environmental sustainability.