New rules 'threat to young farmers'

Last updated 05:00 12/05/2014

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The new dairy farm plan change could force families who have farmed sheep and beef for generations off their land, a Southland Federated Farmers boss says.

Plan Change 13, which came into force in March, requires all new dairy farms to obtain resource consent from Environment Southland before becoming operational.

Since being introduced, more farmers than previously had applied to convert their farms to dairy and none had been turned down, Environment Southland says.

Despite this, Federated Farmers Southland president Russell MacPherson again voiced his concerns about Plan Change 13 at the organisation's annual general meeting last week.

He said it would be harder for family farms to stay in the family under Plan Change 13.

MacPherson said land that had been successfully farmed for generations now had the potential to be deemed not suitable for land use change.

Converting a farm to dairy was now dependent on soil type, under the new rules, he said.

Before Plan Change 13, smaller family farms that were not economic under sheep had been able to stay in the family by converting to dairy. "The plan has the ability to stop this, simply because a desktop exercise tells the regional council that great-grandad bought the wrong soil type."

He believed new dairy farms were now more likely to come under the ownership of established farmers or corporate companies because they had more ability to soak up conversion costs.

The cost of converting to a dairy farm would put the "young farming couple" at a disadvantage, MacPherson said.

"Young farming couples may not have the financial backing to meet the compliance costs to do the conversion," he said.

"It's hard enough to buy a farm now but the rules and regulations are making it even harder."

The plan would also slow down land sales, he said.

"People are not going to buy land at a high price and take a punt that it could be a dairy farm," MacPherson said.

"People who want to be dairy farmers now have to go through very long process to make sure that land is suitable for dairy farming."

Plan Change 13 did not need to be in place; farmers had the ability to put systems on their properties so they did not have any effect on the environment, he said.

Under the Resource Management Act Environment Southland's role was to monitor and enforce best practice which should be enough without adding further rules and regulations that put family farms and land use change at risk, he said.

Environment Southland chair Ali Timms said Plan Change 13 was not an impediment for dairy conversions. The 20 conversions coming through for this season were more than had been seen in recent years, she said. No conversion applications had yet been turned down to date under Plan Change 13, she said.

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However, farmers on heavy or leaky soil would be required to do more to avoid further degradation in water quality.

"When converting to a more intense type of farming, it's not too much to ask for more intervention procedures," Timms said.

Timms did not believe the cost of converting a farm to a dairy would disadvantage young farmers.

The cost of having a farm plan and mitigation procedures were reasonably insignificant compared to the cost of a conversion, which was in the millions of dollars, she said. 

- The Southland Times

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