NZ Farmer - Farmers uneasy as Southland Water and Land hearings come to an end

Many farmers support holding the water quality line in the proposed Southland Water and Land Plan, but have reservations about how it will be carried out.

Hearings held over many months are now over, after the panel heard submissions both supporting and criticising the plan. More than 270 of the original 900 submitters chose to be heard by the panel, many of whom were Southland farmers concerned with how the plan would impact on their businesses if it were to go ahead.

Southland policy and planning manager Anita Dawe said the hearings had gone smoothly and the panel had appreciated the proactive and practical nature of presenters.

"I think it's fair to say that they've had quite a range of views and opinions."

Many presenters provided potential options for different ways to achieve the "hold the line" approach the council was taking in regards to water quality, Dawe said that had been valuable to the panel.

She was also happy with the active community participation, with a high percentage of submitters choosing to speak on their submissions.

The hearings will now adjourn for a month and come back for a day in November for the officers of the 42A report to present their reply report. The report will offer positions and recommendations.

The hearing will be adjourned again and the panel will come back with its decisions on the plan next year.

In the final week of hearings Federated Farmers had their chance to speak to their submission opposing many aspects of the proposed plan.

Federated Farmers, represented by leaders including president Allan Baird, Graeme McKenzie and Bernadette Hunt, presented their submission at the hearing on Tuesday.

Their submission was put together after consultation with nearly 1400 farmer members.

The concerns of the members included compliance costs associated with the plan, 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 for physiographic zones that had not been "ground-truthed" on the farms. 

The physiographic zones were a contentious issue throughout the hearings, with many farmers saying restrictions on practices in the Old Mataura and Peat Wetlands would adversely affect their farming businesses.

Baird said the science around physiographics could be helpful but it needed to be further investigated.

"The physiographic science has a place but not in a planned document," he said.

Senior regional policy advisor Darryl Sycamore said the farmer group was concerned with Environment Southland's lack of ground-truthing for the model and that it didn't equate with the knowledge farmers had of their farms.

"The primary sector is crucial for Southland's wellbeing."

Restrictions on intensive winter grazing and stock exclusion would hinder farming practices, especially for hill and high country farmers, Sycamore said.

"Many large scale and hill country farmers will automatically need a consent. Fifty hectares (of winter crop) is just not enough to feed the stock on their farms."

The current rule suggests no more than 50ha of winter crop allowed to be planted on farms. 

Meanwhile, the plan outlines rules on stock exclusion from waterways, with cattle, pigs and deer targeted. Sycamore said it would be "inappropriate" and often impossible for hill country farmers to exclude stock from waterways.

It would also become an animal welfare issue because animals needed access to drinking water and there were difficulties in putting in reticulated water systems on such properties, he said.

Sycamore said the primary sector equated to 24 per cent of the regional gross domestic product and the proposed plan was rurally targeted.

Federated Farmers life member and sheep and beef farmer Doug Fraser agreed in his presentation that the plan impacted the rural sector more than urban dwellers, saying the plan did not deal with water quality issues equitably. 

"There's no hit on the average householder in Invercargill."