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Crunch Time For New Freshwater Legislation

By Oscar Savage, Graduate Planner, Baseline Group | Nov 22, 2022

In 2020, Central Government released an abundance of Freshwater Policies, including National Policy Statements (NPS-FW) and National Environmental Standard for Freshwater (NES-FW), and addendums to the RMA bringing in Freshwater Farm Plans and Stock Exclusion Regulations. As we near the end of 2022, push has come to shove, and these regulations are starting to take effect. Understanding what the raft of regulations will mean for farmers is important to ensure regulatory compliance for our agricultural sector.

Freshwater Farm Plans are management tools used to identify and implement practices to oversee the impact of farming activities on Freshwater. Freshwater Farm Plans are tailored to individual farms and follow catchment-level directions about the individual needs of each catchment. Freshwater Farm Plans achieve this through risk identification, impact assessment and planning actions to mitigate risks. This includes detailing how existing freshwater legislation will be met including intensive winter grazing restrictions and stock exclusion regulations.

Any farm with 20 ha or more in arable or pastoral use, over 5 ha in horticultural use, or over 20 ha of mixed-use will be required to have a Freshwater Farm Plan. Government has anticipated farmers will be able to put together their plans; however, specialist information from primary sector groups, advisors and regional council will be necessary. Regardless of who writes them, the plans will be certified and audited by a qualified certifier or farm advisor, to ensure the plan is fit for purpose and report back to Regional Council. Certification ensures the plans are consistent on a regional level and heading towards achieving a region-wide improvement in freshwater quality and quantity.

Restrictions on intensive winter grazing were raised in the NES-FW in 2020 and were to come into effect in May 2021; however, this was put off until November 2022. The restrictions establish permitted standards farmers must operate within for winter grazing, or seek resource consent. The permitted activity standards require a Freshwater Farm Plan, controls the total area of a farm that can be used for intensive winter grazing, slope and setback from waterways, among other things.

Stock exclusion regulations are generally coming into force in July 2023 for dairy cattle and July 2025 for dairy support cattle. These regulations require dairy cattle, dairy support cattle, deer, and pigs to be excluded from the area 3 m from the edge of a bank of a lake or river over 1 m in width unless they are accessing a bridge, culvert, or are driven directly through the waterbody no more than twice a month.

These regulations have been deemed necessary by central Government due to the importance of freshwater to the health of our communities and environment. Beyond best management practices applied daily on farms, freshwater management requires a holistic look from a regional and catchment level to ensure the improvement of our freshwater for future generations, which is the primary aim of the Freshwater Farm Plan process.

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