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Published: 2006-04-28 00:00:00

Following closely on the release of the dairy industry’s sustainable environmental management strategy, Environment Waikato has finalised changes to its regional plan that are designed to promote sustainable agriculture.

The rule changes arise from a recent Environment Court decision, which has finalised a number of permitted activity rules, including those relating to keeping stock out of waterways, and nutrient management planning.

Environment Waikato has had the rules in place since 2000, but they have not been enforced because they were under appeal. The rules permit culverts, bridges, fertiliser use and stock access to waterways subject to conditions.

The new rules mean farmers are now required to keep their stock out of the following waterways, unless they have a resource consent:

  • any stream flowing into Lake Taupo
  • any stream within 2 km of the coastal marine area (for example, any stream flowing into a harbour or estuary)
  • margins of significant wetlands in the region and most Waikato peat lakes
  • some specified streams on the Coromandel Peninsula.

For the rest of the region, stock access to waterways will be subject to strict conditions to protect water quality.

Many Waikato farmers have already taken steps to exclude stock from waterways on their properties.

“We’re really pleased with the work that’s already been done in the region and are working cooperatively with most farmers,” said Environment Waikato chairman Jenni Vernon.

“Many farmers are already working through Fonterra and the Clean Streams Project, or of their own accord, to keep their stock out of waterways, as shown by the popularity of subscriptions to our Clean Streams Fund. It’s just good practice.”

“In addition, we are heartened by the dairy industry's strong commitment to sustainable environmental management, as set out in the Dairy Environment Review Group's recent report. This report identifies nutrient management and the contamination of waterways as key areas of farmer concern, and talks about the importance of natural capital, intergenerational stewardship, and profitability as important drivers for promoting sustainable agriculture.

“Environment Waikato's new rules will help encourage and support farmers in their drive for sustainable economic management.”

The new regional plan rules also mean farmers applying more than 60 kg of nitrogen per hectare a year to their land require a nutrient management plan.

Environment Waikato is working with industry representatives to create an information package for farmers explaining how best to devise a nutrient management plan.

“For the plan to be effective it needs to be useful and useable by the farmer,” Mrs Vernon said.

Waikato Federated Farmers president Peter Buckley said his organisation supported the Regional Plan changes.

"Federated Farmers recognises it makes good sense to keep stock out of water bodies and use a nutrient management plan,” Mr Buckley said.

“We agreed to these rules because they represent a good, pragmatic compromise between protecting the environment and allowing farmers to manage their land in the most appropriate way."

Environment Waikato is now working with Federated Farmers and other stakeholders to determine the best way of implementing these rules.

Farmers can expect to receive information about how they will be affected by the changes.

The new regional plan rules have come about as the result of a negotiated settlement between Environment Waikato, Federated Farmers, Fish and Game and a number of other parties, presented to the Environment Court last December.

The Court recently approved the settlement, and the regional plan has been amended, so the rules are now operative.