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Published: 2016-11-08 00:00:00

Waikato Regional Council says a new report testing the implications of the Healthy Rivers/Wai Ora: Proposed Waikato Regional Plan Change 1 has provided useful data to inform the submission process.

The Heathy Rivers/Wai Ora: On-farm Project saw 13 independent farms and 11 Fonterra farms, led through the process of developing farm environment plans (FEPs). FEPs are a key part of the proposed plan change and designed to identify current contaminant losses and where those contaminants can leave properties. They also detail what action landowners will take to reduce those losses in a certain timeframe.

Regional council chief executive Vaughan Payne said the Federated Farmers-led project identified alignment issues between the schedules in the proposed plan, which are open to interpretation, leading to widely varying on farm costs.

“This type of information is exactly why we are testing the implementation of Healthy Rivers/Wai Ora on farm. This information is invaluable for the submission process. It will also assist with the council’s implementation planning, once the new rules become operative,” said Mr Payne.

Report results suggest the average cost of preparing a Farm Environment Plan could be around $4692, while on farm management to implement Healthy Rivers/Wai Ora ranged from $0 to $785,687.

For example, a dry stock farm on steep country allowed for a potential $479,138 in fencing costs to install an 8 wire post and batten fence over 21.8km. While Schedule 1 (development of Farm Environment Plans) provides for alternative mitigations, where fencing land over 25 degrees is not practical, Schedule C (requirements for stock exclusion) does not.

In this example, under the proposed plan, the landowner would need to provide water supply for stock that currently drinks from waterways, at an estimated cost of $173,000. Other mitigation included three wire fencing, waterway crossings and planting for erosion control, taking the total cost to $306,549.

Depending on the plan’s interpretation the costs to this farm could range between $306,549 and $785,687.

Mr Payne said the study also highlighted a need to determine the suite of minimum mitigations available to landowners to ensure they fully understand the flexibility and options they do have to tailor farm environment plans appropriately.

The report also identified costs for a number of dairy farms where effluent management needed work.

“This is work that needs to be carried out to meet current requirements and it’s important to recognise that this is not a cost associated with implementing Healthy Rivers/Wai Ora,” Mr Payne said.

The project was jointly funded by Waikato Regional Council, Federated Farmers Waikato, Fonterra, DairyNZ and the Foundation for Arable Research. 

The proposed plan was publicly notified on 22 October. It seeks to improve water quality in the Waipa and Waikato rivers by managing nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment and bacteria entering waterways.

The council has provided an extended period for submissions to allow people time to understand the proposed plan change and make informed submissions. Submissions close at 5pm on 8 March 2017.