Ballance encourages practical approach for Healthy Rivers Plan
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Ballance Agri-Nutrients is encouraging a focus on the potential impacts for the regional farming community as a result of the proposed Healthy Rivers/Wai Ora: Proposed Waikato Regional Plan Change, which seeks to improve water quality in the Waipa and Waikato rivers.
While broadly supportive of the proposed change and its objectives, we note that elements of it, such as Policy 6, propose restrictions on land use changes which may have economic impacts. We are also seeking changes to the proposed Nitrogen Reference Point to make it more workable.
Farm Sustainability Service Manager, Alastair Taylor, who is involved in Ballance’s submission on the plan change, says the proposed restrictions on land use need to be reconsidered.
“Effectively, under the proposal restrictions come into play to prevent land use changes such as converting livestock grazing or arable cropping to dairy farming, or bringing land into commercial vegetable production.
“Under the proposed rules, these activities would become non-complying until July 2026 and any land owner wanting to change land use would face the most difficult category of resource consent to secure under the Resource Management Act. We believe this will have economic impacts on parts of the farming community, so we are calling for an amendment which proposes the Council allow land use changes to be a discretionary activity. In our view, this will not compromise the goals of the overall plan change and will avoid any unnecessary economic impacts.”
We have also questioned the practicality and economic effectiveness of requiring a restricted discretionary activity consent for farming and cultivation on slopes greater than 15 degrees. Mr Taylor says cultivation and grazing can be managed to minimise the loss of nutrients and sediment, provided industry-agreed good management practices are followed.
“We certainly support the long-term and short-term timeframes set out in the plan change and the overall objectives of improving water quality. In fact, robust science tells us it is possible that the water quality goals could be achieved earlier, without unacceptable social or economic harm, so long as proven management tools and techniques for addressing nitrogen losses on farm are adopted.
“We have invested in research with AgResearch to develop such tools, including MitAgator which is a GIS-based water quality decision support tool that links with OVERSEER. Our experience is farmers will adopt proven technology and are as committed to improving water quality as council and the community.”
Ballance has undertaken a detailed technical appraisal of the Nitrogen Reference Points used in the proposed plan and has requested a number of changes to ensure the schedule is more effective for farmers and easier to implement for the Waikato Regional Council.
Mr Taylor says that in workshops run for farmers last year, one of the biggest initial concerns identified was the farmer workload needed to get the required Nitrogen Reference Points finalised within proposed timelines.
As consultation continues on the Plan, we are working directly with farmers to provide information on practical steps that influence nitrogen loss and nitrogen use efficiency values and practical ways to change them for the better. Suggested options for improving nitrogen use efficiency covered areas such as fertiliser use, pasture utilisation, supplement use and stock management.