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Farmers relieved after Fresh Water Farm Plan seminar

Rural professionals last week had the opportunity to find out how the Fresh Water Farm Plan (FWFP) regulations  will be rolled out and what the impacts could be for farmers.

The FWFP seminar run by NZ Institute of Primary Industry Management and facilitated by the Ministry for Environment (MfE) and Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and was attended by Project Tinaku staff  David Hewson and Jo Fearn to be able to report back to members of Ellesmere Sustainable Agriculture Inc.

Presenters Gin Loughnan and Andrew Curtis were keen to instil on all those attending that these new regulations are being developed and worked through with great care.

Working groups which include farmers and representatives from all the major agriculture sectors have been heavily involved in the development of the new Fresh Water Farm Plan (FWFP) regulations, and how the regulations will be implemented.

It would appear that submissions made last year by the rural sector to MfE and MPI on new fresh water regulations have been heard and largely adopted. The emphasis will be on an enabling framework which allows flexibility for adapting existing farm environment plans, and allowing for changes that may need to be made, instead of requiring a prescriptive one-size-fits-all template.

There will be a real focus on recognising the risks and uniqueness of individual farms and catchments, with a move away from blanket national standards. Whilst FWFP templates will be available, industry groups will be able to develop their own templates or existing farm environment plans may be modified and adapted.

The presenters were eager to point out that the new FWFP aims to build on the quality assurance systems already in place. They are working closely with industry leaders to ensure that farmers will be able to bring all the regulatory requirements together in one document to reduce doubling up and extra work.

This is promising since many farmers in the Canterbury region are well ahead of the rest of New Zealand as most are already operating with audited Farm Environment Plans in place.

The roll out of the new regulations will be in stages with the first regions starting in 2023 and the completion of roll out by 2025. There will be a period of around five years before the regulations are enforceable and operating fully to allow sufficient time for regional councils to develop key policy infrastructure and resources to enable the new system to operate.

The new Fresh Water Farm Plans will need to include details on how individual catchment outcomes are to be met; risk assessment of possible impacts of farming practices on an individual catchment context and actions to avoid, remedy or mitigate the impact of activities on freshwater and freshwater ecosystems.

Whilst FWFPs can be developed by farmers themselves, they will need to be certified by a council registered certifier and then audited by a registered auditor.

Gin Loughnan was keen to point out that the frequency of certification and auditing would align with current plans that individual farmers already have in place to avoid unnecessary costs. The new plans will be held by the individual farmer or landowner.  It will be the responsibility of the certifier to notify council of any relevant data associated with the FWFP.

Overall, most of those attending the seminar seemed to breathe a sigh of relief after hearing Gin and Andrew speak.

Generally, concerns and apprehension from farmers and the rural sector regarding the new regulations have been listened to by the officials.  Whilst the new regulations are likely to meet a degree of resistance from some, they are at least being developed with farmers and others in the industry. This should ensure that regulations are workable and in the long run this should reduce the paperwork for those on the land.

Hopefully ESAI members and other local farmers will adopt a positive approach to the new regulations. After all, change is inevitable but with change comes opportunities to build more resilience into our farming systems.


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