Winter grazing and freshwater plans: B+LNZ remains unconvinced by revised low-slope map

The Government’s new proposed low-slope map for stock exclusion is better than the original, but it still won’t practically work, says Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ).

The Government is consulting on a revised map after the original mis-identified thousands of hectares of steep land across New Zealand as ‘low-slope’ which meant it required stock exclusion or fencing. It is also consulting on a proposed certified freshwater farm planning approach.

B+LNZ today released factsheets outlining key issues and guidance for farmers on both consultations and will be making submissions incorporating farmer feedback. It will also be making a submission on the changes to the intensive winter grazing rules, announced last week.

The release of the factsheets follows the government’s announcement last week that it was delaying the  roll-out of new winter grazing regulations aimed at improving animal welfare and environmental outcomes.

The regulations were supposed to have come into effect from May this year.

But the farming sector described the rules as unworkable and the government is now proposing changes to the rules which it says will make them more practical. Moreover it has pushed back the start date another six months to November 2022.

B+LNZ chief executive Sam McIvor says the original low-slope map for stock exclusion was unworkable and wouldn’t have delivered good environmental outcomes.

“We recognise the Government’s efforts to fix the map and we acknowledge the revised map is a lot better. 

“However, our view is that it’s not the best approach. Since the stock exclusion regulations were first proposed, our position has been that the map should be replaced with a general stock exclusion rule that regional councils would be empowered to give effect to. 

“The new mapping approach still has inaccuracies and does not provide regional councils with enough flexibility. Where the cost and effort required to exclude stock vastly outweighs the environmental risks and impacts, there needs to be scope to address those situations. 

“The proposal still doesn’t take into account the fact that requiring stock exclusion on some of the identified 0-5 degree slope land would be inefficient or ineffective, especially given the waterway or catchment characteristics.

“Based on the feedback we’ve been getting from farmers, we believe the Government has underestimated the scale of the remaining problems with the map. 

“With the current levels of satellite information, we do not believe it’s possible to get a national-level map accurate enough to determine where stock exclusion should occur.” 

B+LNZ also has reservations about the freshwater farm planning approach outlined in the current consultation.

“B+LNZ was originally one of very few agricultural organisations to oppose the Government’s plans for a mandatory certified freshwater farm plan,” says Mr McIvor. 

“We reluctantly agreed to this approach, along with all other agricultural groups, provided input regulations were avoided and there was an industry-led, outcomes based, non-prescriptive approach to the plans.

“We still have significant concerns about using farm plans as a compliance tool. Historically, farm plans were intended to add value to the farming business and help inform management decisions to unlock the productive potential of the land while managing environmental effects. 

“The adjustment of farm plans into a more regulatory space does not mean they can’t still be used to support farmers to make good decisions. However, we need to ensure they are still designed by farmers and for farmers rather than imposed on farmers.”  

B+LNZ’s  guiding principles are that the freshwater farm plan should be based on industry-led farm plan approaches, be practical, effects-based and not input-based, as well as ensuring the privacy of farmers’ data.

It welcomes the discussion document picking up many of B+LNZ’s advocated positions and the practical farm planning solutions the farm organisation put forward.

“However, the content is relatively high-level and the devil is always in the detail,” says  Mr McIvor.

“We need to see the detailed regulations on the farm plan to be able to make a proper assessment. 

“We are also asking the Government for assurances there will be a further opportunity to comment on the proposed regulations once they have been drafted.”

B+LNZ’s factsheets on the low-slope map and freshwater farm plan consultations are available here:

But environmental groups are complaining that farming lobby groups have been given too much say at the cost of the environment.

Choose Clean Water NZ spokesperson Marnie Prickett said:

“The risk for the government is that they need to stay the course and stay strong on its role for improving fresh water, they’ve got the backing of the public on this, they’ve got a mandate to restore New Zealand’s waterways,” Prickett said.

“I can see the logic in pushing back the regulations although I am disappointed there won’t be rules in place next season, because we see the enormous damage that winter grazing has on the environment.”

Forest and Bird’s Otago-Southland regional conservation manager, Rick Zwaan, said the Government’s delay in action this winter resulted in  large amounts of winter grazing leading to sediment pouring into streams and rivers polluting the homes of native fish.

“Regional councils are doing a terrible job of monitoring and undertaking compliance action this winter. In Southland there are 3500 farms undertaking intensive winter grazing, many on steep slopes and across critical source areas. Yet Environment Southland only followed up a handful of complaints with only one still under investigation,” Mr Zwaan said.

“Someone taking a cursory look around the region would see far more bad practice then that.”

He welcomed the government’s promoting some controls, such as capping the maximum slope at 10 degrees.

“We know the steeper the slope the more sediment will flow off, and protection of critical source areas – the places where water collects in paddocks and flows into streams – is positive too but there needs to be a buffer around these. There needs to be much clearer guidance on pugging otherwise it won’t be worth the paper it’s written on with no ability to enforce them.”

“Relying on farm plans without clearer rules and enforceability creates a licence to pollute and I’m not confident it’ll quickly clean up our rivers .”

Sources: B+LNZ; RNZ



Author: Bob Edlin

Editor of AgScience Magazine and Editor of the AgScience Blog