Feds happy farmers ‘listened to’
Recommended changes to the proposed Southland Water and Land Plan suggest some concerns of farmers have been listened to, ‘‘and rightfully so’’, a senior Federated Farmers member says.
Environment Southland officers, who sat through the months-long Water and Land Plan public submissions hearing this year, conveyed their final recommendations to the five hearing commissioners yesterday.
The hearing commissioners will take the recommended changes on board when making their final decisions; but a council spokeswoman said they held no more weight than any other submission.
‘‘It’s just part of the information the panel will use to deliberate.’’
Doug Fraser, the Feds policy chairman, agreed after yesterday’s hearing that the final recommendations indicated some of the farmers’ concerns had been listened to.
But it remained to be seen what the final outcome of the water and land plan would be, with hearing commissioners to make their decision next year.
‘‘Whether the hearing commissioners go far enough to make it palatable to the farming community remains to be seen ... let’s hope it’s not going to be too detrimental to the total Southland economy.’’
The plan, put together by Environment Southland, seeks to maintain water quality in Southland. It proposes to manage farming activities that contribute to disproportionate amounts of contaminants such as nitrogen, phosphorous and sediments from entering waterways.
The majority of the proposed policies and rules in the plan that related to farming activities were opposed by many farmers during the public hearing.
In particular, the physiographic zones, hectare-based winter grazing rules, water body setbacks and cultivation rules raised concerns among many farmers.
Environment Southland has divided Southland into nine physiographic zones in the plan, each representing areas of landscape with common attributes that influence water quality.
Two of the zones, called the Old Mataura Zone and the Peat Wetlands Zone, have proposed rules that place restrictions on new dairy conversions and have tighter intensive winter grazing requirements.
Fraser previously said at the hearing that the proposal to limit the intensification of farming practices in some areas of Southland was based on ‘‘grossly inaccurate’’ physiographic zoning and would have enormous financial effects on farmers.
Speaking yesterday, Fraser said he was confused about what the officers’ latest recommendations were around the physiographic zones.
‘‘They are saying they recommend taking the physiographic zone maps out of the plan ... and later in the report they are actually differentiating farms according to physiographics.
‘‘It seems to be a mixed message to me.’’
Environment Southland senior staffer Anita Dawe, when asked to clarify, said the officer has recommended retaining the physiographic zone policies but removing the differentiation of rules in each zone that was previously included.
The latest recommendations also allow many farmers more land to winter graze their stock on, by going from a hectare-based threshold to a percentage of farm area, which many farmers had asked for.
‘‘Officers recommend a [winter grazing] threshold at 15 per cent of land area, with an upper threshold of 100 hectares of intensive winter grazing,’’ the report recommends.
Fraser said the latest recommendation around winter grazing was a ‘‘more realistic way of looking at it’’.
Intensive winter grazing is a feature of Southland farming because of reduced grass growth in winter months, and it is also acknowledged as a significant contributor to contaminants getting into water bodies, the report to commissioners says.