DairyNZ says it supports recommendations to the Government from an advisory group looking to improve winter grazing rules for farmers and achieve better environmental outcomes.
Late last year, the Southland Advisory Group – made up of farmers, industry good organisations, environmental groups and local government in the region – recommended pugging rules and resowing dates be scrapped from the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater.
Right from the outset, these rules, especially in a southern NZ setting, were totally impractical. As they are now, the rules require paddocks around the country to be resown by 1 October or 1 November in Otago and Southland.
Since day one, government ministers and officials have been told that these rules are completely unrealistic given seasonal variations in rainfall and practically impossible to implement in most years.
Meanwhile, an Economic Impact Report on Land and Water Management in the Ashburton District suggests that the new freshwater rules will reduce farm profitability in that region by 83% a year.
The report points out that farm expenditure is estimated to decline by $139.9 million per year across the Ashburton district alone – perversely making farmers far less effective managers of their land, which will only negatively impact on water quality. If these figures are extrapolated across the rest of the country the costs in export earnings and tax revenue will be devastating for our economy.
Farmers have as much incentive as anyone else to want better water quality. They and their families also want to drink, swim and fish in water that is of the highest quality. However, the rules for achieving this must be practical. A one-size-fits-all approach will not work. Local issues need local solutions.
Rather than implementing restrictive sowing dates on winter crops, putting in ridiculous pugging measurements or placing arbitrary rules on what slope a paddock must be, there needs to be flexibility in accommodating seasonal variations in rainfall, climate and other regional factors.
The Government must listen to feedback on what are currently unworkable freshwater rules. Recommendations from the Southland Advisory Group have been presented to the Minister for the Environment David Parker and the Minister of Agriculture Damien O’Connor.
Let’s hope they have the good sense to make the necessary changes.