Legal challenges are inevitable if the proposed Southland Water and Land Plan goes ahead, hearing commissioners have been told. By: EVAN HARDING
Sheep and dairy farmer Doug Fraser, a Federated Farmers Southland life member, issued the warning on Tuesday during the last week of the months-long hearing.
A proposal in the plan 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, Fraser said.
The rules would result in decreased property values in the affected areas and he believed legal challenges would result.
“This plan will put many families in a position where the only way they can maintain the bankability of their farming operation is to legally challenge the plan.”
He strongly opposed the plan and said it failed to identify the need for such prescriptive and punitive measures.
The plan focused only on the farming sector and it would divide the community, he said.
The proposed 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.
Federated Farmers, represented by leaders including president Allan Baird at the hearing on Tuesday, say parts of the proposed plan are inappropriate, impractical, unworkable and not economically feasible for some farmers.
The Feds’ submission was put together after consultation with its nearly 1400 farmer members.
The concerns of the members included the compliance costs associated with the plan, the restrictions on intensive winter grazing, the potential devaluation of people’s properties and interference of people’s property rights, and the fact Environment Southland was proposing to base rules on new science [physiographic zones] that had not been ground-truthed on the farms.
The Feds also say the proposed plan targets rural land use rather than looking at both rural and urban contaminant losses.
Restrictions placed on intensive winter grazing do not recognise the practical fact that stock need to be fed all year round – and stock exclusion requirements in the plan are unworkable and not practically or economically feasible for extensive farming operations, the Feds say.
The group argues non-complying statuses for new or extended dairy farming and tighter restrictions for intensive winter grazing in the Old Mataura and Peat Wetlands physiographic zones are inappropriate because not enough is known about nutrient loading.
The Feds support Environment Southland’s aim to “hold the line” on water quality until catchment limit setting is introduced.
Catchment limit setting includes restricting the amount of contaminants that can be discharged into waterways and how much water can be extracted.
“We agree that in order to maintain water quality some actions need to be taken now,” the Feds say.
However, the lobby group cautions against imposing significant constraints on farming systems before nutrient allocation levels are known and the Southland Economics Project is completed.
Implementing good management practices across Southland will maintain water quality until limit setting is introduced, the Feds believe.
“Our main concern with the proposed plan is that it precedes the formal catchment limit setting process, yet embeds regulatory framework that will carry through to the catchment-based processes.”
The lobby group support the concept of farm management plans because good management practices improve water quality.
As such, it is “very disappointed” the proposed plan requires farmers to gain resource consent to undertake normal farming practices.
Federated Farmers expert witness Tom Heller, an environmental consultant, said data showed on-farm nitrate leaching in Southland water bodies was holding the line.
Data clearly showed the greatest risk to water quality was from phosphorous and off-farm riparian sources of contamination, he said.
“The plan appears to prioritise nitrate when it should be off-farm contaminants.”
The Mid Aparima Catchment Group has called for a full economic impact report to adequately model the likely economic impacts of the proposed plan.
The hearing is due to continue on Wednesday and conclude on Thursday, with the four hearing commissioners to then consider their decision.
Source: The Southland Times