Calls for flexibility over 'completely unrealistic' winter grazing deadline for Southland farmers

The Government's new freshwater rules have been brought back under the microscope with ACT demanding more flexibility concerning deadlines for farmers.

The controversial National Environmental Standards for Freshwater were signed off earlier this year and largely came into force last month.

However, the regulations received sharp criticism from many in the agricultural community, with farmers saying they are impractical and unworkable.

Farmers in Southland threatened to boycott some of the rules - particularly those around winter grazing - though were told by Environment Minister David Parker in no uncertain terms that "no one is above the law".

One of the more controversial parts of the new regulations is the rule stating grazed winter crop paddocks must be re-sown by October 1, or November 1 in Southland and Otago.

Farmers in the deep south have argued that wet conditions in that part of the country mean in some years it's simply not possible to get paddocks re-sown until late November or even December.

"Farmers will certainly get those paddocks into new crop or grass as soon as they can but it's totally weather-related," Federated Farmers Southland President Geoffrey Young said earlier this year.

On Thursday, ACT's spokesperson for primary industries Mark Cameron said the Government needs to be more flexible around the deadlines.

"That's completely unrealistic given seasonal variations in snowfall and flooding. It would be difficult to implement in most years," Cameron said.

"Recent snowstorms and flooding mean farmers are struggling to meet the deadline."

"Seasonal ground temperatures need to be above 10 degrees for crop germination in these regions. The ground temperature is often significantly lower at this time of year and crops will fail."

He said rather than "restrictive" deadlines, more flexibility was needed.

"Local issues must have local solutions, not a one-size-fits-all approach from Wellington." 

A spokesperson for David Parker's office said the new regulations regarding winter grazing don't come into force until May 1, 2021, meaning Southland farmers don't need to get a consent this year if they can't re-sow before November 1. Farmers are also given a transition period to adjust their practices, meaning a resource consent would not need to be applied for until October 31, 2021 for existing winter grazing.

Following initial complaints from farmers, the Government made a number of adjustments to the freshwater regulations - mainly concerning rules around pugging, which is defined by hoof prints in the ground - but farmers say more changes still need to be made.

The Government says the freshwater rules are necessary to "improve and protect our waterways" and that if done poorly intensive winter grazing "severely pollutes rivers and estuaries".