Selwyn farmers need serious change of outlook toward consented farming

Cows and canadian geese graze near the edge of Lake Ellesmere.
Sissi Stein-Abel

Cows and canadian geese graze near the edge of Lake Ellesmere.

Farmers should take a positive view of the new environmental requirements in the Selwyn-Waihora zone, because there may be marketing opportunities from embracing the new regime, Leeston cropping farmer Dave Birkett says. 

A few weeks ago, Environment Canterbury [Ecan] sent a package of information to many Selwyn-Waihora farmers reminding them of their responsibility to meet nutrient management limits and to help them discover if they would need a land use consent to farm this year.

Selwyn-Waihora zone manager Michaela Rees said 900 landowners in the catchment would require a consent to farm.

Lime is sprayed over a farm alongside Lake Ellesmere on a strong northerly day, blowing the lime into the lake.

Lime is sprayed over a farm alongside Lake Ellesmere on a strong northerly day, blowing the lime into the lake.

These measures were due to the decreased flows in the lowland streams and the Selwyn River, increased nitrate concentrations in shallow groundwater and the poor health of Lake Ellesmere-Te Waihora.

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Opening a channel from Lake Ellesmere to the Pacific.
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Birkett was aware some farmers were still resisting getting up to speed on the new requirements despite a July deadline.

"Why should we do this, farmers ask. But if you get a consent it means you have the right to farm as long as you follow the rules. Once done and dusted it gives you security. Going forward this might be quite a powerful marketing opportunity," he said.

Algae in the Selwyn River.
Joseph Johnson

Algae in the Selwyn River.

Birkett was one of the farmers required to apply for consent to farm his 180ha cropping farm due to its inclusion in the phosphorous zone near Lake Ellesmere-Te Waihora. This was despite a nitrate loss less than the limit of 15 kilogrammes per hectare per year.

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He said he understood the fear and confusion in the community but farmers would benefit long-term from becoming compliant and addressing environmental concerns in the zone.

"While change is hard to stomach it is part and parcel of farming today and being adaptive is the key to survival," he said.

"This zone has always been the guinea pig. It's aways been the first cab off the rank. But NCheck will save growers $7000 a year for four years until they get Overseer working on arable systems. And if your NCheck comes in under 15kg this is all you need to do. Most arable farmers in our district have a low nutrient loss or will fall into that bracket. So they should just get it done."

NCheck is a simple way to work out nitrogen losses and to ascertain if a land use consent to farm is required. 

Rees said many people were already doing the right thing or were on track to do so. 

"They will need to apply for a consent to farm if their property is over 10 hectares, and their nitrogen losses exceed 15kg or any part of their property is within the cultural or phosphorus and sediment areas."

Rees said there were several steps farmers needing a consent were required to take and Ecan and industry bodies were available to help.

The steps involved were to create a farm environment plan [FEP]; prepare a nutrient budget; apply for consent; have the FEP audited, and plan for further nitrogen loss reduction.

As a member of the Ellesmere Sustainable Agricultural Society which helped design the phosphate consent form required on some soil types in the zone, Birkett wanted to encourage other farmers.

"We deliberately tried to make it simple and streamlined. We wanted the process to be able to be done my farmers and I think we have done that with the form and NCheck. I think most farmers will be able to do it."

Having consented farming, especially around the margins of Te Waihora-Lake Ellesmere will also allay some of the public's concerns about farming's impact on water quality.

"I don't think the public pressure will get any less so potentially it's a good thing to have. When people challenge us we will be able to say we are fully compliant. At the end of the day, you look around the world and there are all kinds of regulations around farming. There are two ways of looking at it and I prefer the positive."

When it comes to long-term water management Birkett sees a role for urban dwellers and farmers to work together.

"I think water management and nutrient loss are community problems and the solution needs to be community-based. The community needs to work together, both urban and rural. Then we can make sure the regulations are fair and even. At the end of the day, farmers want to have a healthy environment just as much as urban people. If we could have the Selwyn River flowing and irrigation going it would be a great outcome. While we are in a dry period it should also go the other way when it gets too wet, affecting the environment with leaching and flooding. With water, we can have problems at both ends of the scale."







 - Stuff

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