Where now for the One Plan?

Farm­ers, con­ser­va­tion log­ger­head

South Waikato News - - NEWS - By JAN MOR­GAN

Hell hath no fury like a farmer scorned, to pur­loin a phrase.

The vi­tu­per­a­tion un­leashed by the En­vi­ron­ment Court’s de­ci­sion on the Manawatu-Whanganui One Plan is a sight to be­hold.

Farm­ers’ or­gan­i­sa­tions were spurned by the court, their ex­perts dis­missed and their farmer sub­mit­ters ig­nored. Fon­terra was treated with con­tempt.

The back­lash, led by Fed­er­ated Farm­ers and Hor­ti­cul­ture NZ, has been splashed across the ru­ral me­dia with lit­tle at­tempt at bal­ance. An ob­vi­ous tar­get is Fish & Game, whose ex­perts, along with those of the Con­ser­va­tion Depart­ment, had a big influence on the court.

The Feds and HortNZ are ap­peal­ing the de­ci­sion – which, among other things, sets ni­tro­gen leach­ing lev­els for farms – to the High Court.

They will be ar­gu­ing the En­vi­ron­ment Court did not give enough weight to the eco­nomic ef­fects of its de­ci­sions on the re­gion.

I’m not sure what suc­cess they will have.

Ap­peals can only be on points of law and the le­gal view I have is that the judg­ment is so well­grounded in sci­ence-backed facts that lit­tle can change.

Hard­est hit by leach­ing rules will be dairy farm­ers on sandy and gravel soils.

Fed­er­ated Farm­ers ar­gues that some will be put out of busi­ness.

The court spent some time on this and con­cluded that those few who could not meet the leach­ing lev­els should not be ex­empted.

I must ad­mit the court’s rather cold dis­missal was a sur­prise.

It said such ca­su­al­ties in a “chang­ing rule regime” were in­evitable.

In other words, you can’t make an omelette with­out break­ing eggs. It ac­cepted ev­i­dence from Waikato dairy con­sul­tant Ali­son Dewes that a 10 per cent leach­ing re­duc­tion could be made with­out af­fect­ing prof­itabil­ity and even cuts of 30-40 per cent could be achieved while ac­tu­ally im­prov­ing prof­itabil­ity.

Oth­ers who be­lieve they will be se­verely af­fected are veg­etable grow­ers and grain crop­pers.

At the heart of the new regime is a com­puter pro­gram called Over­seer, which will be used to mea­sure nu­tri­ent leach­ing.

It is al­ready in use in three other re­gions and pro­posed for two more.

Over­seer has been de­vel­oped dur­ing the past 20 years at a cost of $15 mil­lion.

Most of that has come from the Pri­mary In­dus­tries Min­istry and the gov­ern­ment-owned re­search in­sti­tute AgRe­search. So you could say your taxes have paid to find ways to en­sure farm­ers clean up rivers.

Other fund­ing has come from FertRe­search, owned by farmer co-op­er­a­tives, so farm­ers are also con­tribut­ing to Over­seer’s de­vel­op­ment.

Of course, farm­ers are tax­pay­ers too.

Farm­ers and grow­ers say Over­seer is untested on crop­ping and hor­ti­cul­ture land.

But the En­vi­ron­ment Court ac­cepted the ex­pert opin­ion of what it termed a “galaxy” of sci­en­tists that even with leach­ing sources as dif­fuse as livestock or car­rots, Over­seer’s ac­cu­racy is ac­cept­able.

Back­ing this has been a state­ment re­leased in the past week by FertRe­search up­hold­ing the qual­ity of the lat­est ver­sion of Over­seer.

It says “a very sig­nif­i­cant” up­grade to the arable model in a pre­vi­ous ver­sion has been bet­ter in­te­grated into the new one.

Hor­ti­cul­ture was re­moved from the One Plan by a pre­vi­ous ap­peal panel, as well as land in the lower Ran­gi­tikei and around some lakes in­clud­ing Lake Horowhenua.

The court re­in­stated them all, much to the dis­may of grow­ers.

There’s no doubt veg­etable grow­ing is a high leacher.

One cal­cu­la­tion by Plant and Food sci­en­tist Brent Cloth­ier is that ni­tro­gen leach­ing on veg­etable-grow­ing land av­er­ages 215kg per hectare a year. How­ever, other re­search has it at 18- 58kg, de­pend­ing on the veg­etable. This is still high. Ac­cord­ing to Over­seer, dairy leach­ing in the re­gion av­er­ages 22kg, be­low the na­tional av­er­age of 34kg.

On the most vul­ner­a­ble land the plan is to re­duce leach­ing in stages over 20 years to 16kg.

This may be ac­cept­able for dairy­ing but harder for hor­ti­cul­ture to achieve.

The court recog­nised grow­ers’ con­cerns about the lat­est ver­sion of Over­seer and said it was pre­pared to con­sider an “in­terim so­lu­tion” while it was be­ing tri­alled. That is some­thing for the re­gional coun­cil to come back to the court with.

How­ever, care of the en­vi­ron­ment trumps all, as Judge Craig Thomp­son made clear in these com­ments: “We will never know all there is to know.

“But what we un­doubt­edly do know is that in parts of the re­gion the qual­ity of nat­u­ral wa­ter is de­graded to the point of be­ing not potable for hu­mans or stock, un­safe for contact re­cre­ation, and its aquatic ecosys­tems range be­tween sub- op­ti­mal and im­per­illed. We also know what is caus­ing the de­cline and how to stop it and re­verse it.”

A reg­u­la­tory regime to set mea­sur­able stan­dards and en­force com­pli­ance was sim­ply “the right thing to do”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.