Key keeping close watch on Healthy Rivers plan change

Prime Minister John Key says farmers need to keep talking with the regional council about concerns over the Healthy ...

Prime Minister John Key says farmers need to keep talking with the regional council about concerns over the Healthy Rivers plan change. Sitting on the right is Waikato Federated Farmers president Chris Lewis.

Prime Minister John Key has urged farmers unhappy with local government legislation aimed at cleaning up waterways to keep the dialogue open with the Waikato Regional Council.

Key said  when he spoke to farmers in Hamilton he would be keeping a close watch on how the Healthy Rivers Plan for Change played out with the submission process ending on March 8 next year.

"We can't let people go broke," he said.

The plan change is designed to make the Waikato and Waipa Rivers swimmable and safe for food gathering and has an 80-year time frame.

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It will require farmers to exclude all stock from waterways and uses a nitrogen reference point to determine the leaching limits for farms. 

"For the most part, if you accept that they don't want you to go broke but they want a better outcome, generally if we work together and people are sensitive about it, you can get the right outcomes," Key said.

North Waikato hill country farmer Jason Barrier said the plan change would cost him $900,000-$1.5 million to be able to comply with the plan change.

"If this thing does come to bed in, would the Government step in and help write that cheque? Because if I write it, it's going to bounce," he told Key.

Another North Waikato farmer, Steven Stark said he supported the Government's target of doubling agricultural export value by 2025.

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"But we feel that the Waikato Regional Council is lopping us off at the knees. We want to do it, but here they are telling us to cut back."

"Some guys won't be able to get their heads above water," he said.

Key said farmers were far more environmentally concerned than they are portrayed. 

"I think we just have to find a more flexible way through all of this stuff." 

Federated Farmers Auckland president Andrew Maclean said tensions between farmers and environmentalists were escalating.

Farmers had recognised there was a need for change but regional councils were coming down hard on agriculture and that was going to affect rural communities.

"It will put some people out of business," he said.

"We are continuing to look at it and we are continuing to have discussions with them," Key told him.

Like climate change, farmers had to take issues around water quality seriously. If they did not, they risked giving environmental groups more reasons to oppose what they did.

Farmers needed to move towards getting major rivers to a level of swimmable quality and Key applauded the work the dairy industry had done in fencing off the majority of its waterways.

"The question over time will be, do we need to do more of that, the simple answer will be less," he said.

Farmers were under greater scrutiny because of the availability of video recording devices on cellphones. Any negative action could be filmed and put on social media very quickly.

"If we can't control the messaging by proving that we are sustainable in agriculture, I'm telling you now that over time the consumer will push back and you will get stronger and stronger voices from the environmental lobby."

Consumers still wanted to buy the story around New Zealand's agricultural products, he said.

"They want to understand the farm that the animal came from that they are eating, that it is sustainable and looked after and the animal welfare is considered."

 - Stuff

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