OPINION: It's clear that the Ministry for Environment is underestimating the importance of properly consulting farmers on the Essential Freshwater proposals.
Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) says plans to lock down current land uses will 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.
“The sheep and beef sector’s vision is for New Zealanders to continue to be able to swim in and collect food from the freshwater surrounding sheep and beef farms,” says B+LNZ’s Chairman Andrew Morrison.
‘Sheep and beef farmers are committed to protecting the health of our waterways and we’re proud of the progress we’ve made so far, however, we know there is still more work to be done.”
He says the Essential Freshwater proposals, released today, are comprehensive and will take time to assess, however, BLNZ is deeply concerned by some of the analysis it has seen.
This includes modelling that suggests 68% 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.
“These proposals will undermine the viability of a low-intensity sector which supports over 80,000 jobs and generates exports of $9.1 billion a year. It risks decimating rural communities, especially when coupled with other proposed policies such as the Zero Carbon Bill.
“Ultimately, we are concerned the sheep and beef sector will bear a disproportionate impact of the proposed policies, far outweighing the environmental impact of our farming systems.”
Issues around nitrogen leaching are driven primarily by cattle stocking rates and high loadings of nitrogen fertiliser, leading to greater concentrations of nitrate leaching into waterways.
“Most sheep and beef farming systems operate within the natural capacity of the land due to our low stocking rates and efficient, low input farming model,” says Morrison.
"Our nitrogen leaching rates are low and in catchments where sheep and beef farms are the predominant farming system, nitrogen levels are not an issue.
“The sheep and beef sector’s main water health issues are sediment, phosphorus and intensive winter grazing on crops. We are committed to addressing our contribution to these issues and understand the need for increased oversight for activities which pose a higher environmental risk.
“However, the devil is in the detail and we will be looking to ensure any new requirements are matched to the environmental effects we are looking to manage.”
The policy proposals BLNZ is most concerned about are a range of grandparenting provisions that restrict land use change and flexibility within a farming system to diversify.
This would have a disproportionate effect on our low input, low emitting sheep and beef farms as they will have no flexibility moving forward to adapt to these, and other environmental pressures, Morrison says.