Most Waikato farmers will have heard of Plan Change 1 but probably don’t know what it might mean for them, says Federated Farmers Waikato meat and wool chair Reon Verry.
For example, says Verry, farmers might not be allowed to cultivate within five metres of a waterbody, and there will be limits on the amount of nitrogen fertiliser that can be applied.
“I feel like the boy who cried wolf because I’ve talked so much about it, but Plan Change 1 is getting closer, and when it takes effect, it’ll change things for a lot of farmers. I think it’ll definitely be a shock to the system,” Verry says.
“This thing has been going on for a long time, and it’s been through many iterations, so you’d have to be pretty close to it to know how it’s actually going to affect farmers.”
Plan Change 1 (PC1) proposes a wide-sweeping set of rules for agricultural land use to reduce contaminants going into the Waikato and Waipā catchments.
Federated Farmers has appealed a number of the rules, such as setbacks for stock exclusion, how critical source areas are identified and managed, consent duration, and how often fertiliser spreaders need to be calibrated. Along with other parties, it’s currently having those appeals heard in the Environment Court.
“This court case is winding up and the judges will make their decision sometime next year. Then the plan will become operative,” says Verry.
“PC1 could bite within the next six to 12 months, and for some farmers it could be longer, but it is coming.”
Verry, who’s been heavily involved throughout the PC1 process, says the work of Federated Farmers and others to push back on unworkable parts of the plan has made a huge difference.
“Yes, it’s been a long process, but all policy is a long process. That is what Federated Farmers do. These things take time and they cost a lot of money. That’s not ideal, but in this case, we’re going to end up with a way better result than if it’d been three years ago, or back at the start, when it was totally unworkable.
“I’m optimistic that Waikato farmers will end up with something much more workable and practical than what we started with.”
Even so, the bare bones of PC1 haven’t changed, he says.
“You’re going to have to do a farm plan; you’re going to have to do some stock exclusion; if you’re a dairy farmer, you may have to reduce N loss on your farm; and everyone’s going to have to register with the Regional Council. That hasn’t changed much, but the finer details of what you’ll have to do within those requirements has changed a lot.”
Verry says, initially, many farmers may feel overwhelmed by what’s asked of them.
“An extra layer of complication is added by the rollout of National Freshwater Farm Plans occurring simultaneously.
“I’m just hoping the Regional Council will have a pragmatic implementation plan in place, so the plan can be broken down step by step for farmers.”
King Country sheep and beef farmer Verry says he’s nervously awaiting the Environment Court result, so he can work out what needs to be done, and when, on his 1370ha farm.
“For us, it will be a question of how much stock exclusion we’ll have to do, and what sort of timeframe. There’s quite a good chance we’ll need to apply for a consent because we won’t be able to get all the stock exclusion done within the required timeframe.
“At the moment, farmers only have two years to do all the required stock exclusion (otherwise resource consent is required) but some parties want longer timeframes.
“We’ve already fenced off 25km of waterways on our place, so we haven’t been sitting on our hands. We’re well down the road, but we may need to do a lot more.”
Verry says he can’t speak highly enough of Federated Farmers’ policy team.
“They’ve been fantastic. The amount of work they’ve done to pull the Feds case together, and to get ‘Team Ag’ as close to being on the same page as possible, has been incredible.”