Land use change possible for farmers under new Waikato plan change rules
Successfully obtaining a land use change consent under the Healthy Rivers plan change is possible.
But it's not easy, as Doug and Kathy Wallace found out.
The Pukeatua farmers were the first to receive a consent from the Waikato Regional Council since Plan Change 1 (PC1) was notified last year.
They needed consent after buying their neighbouring 61 hectare dairy farm with the intention of converting 60ha of their 207ha drystock farm to expand the dairy platform.
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This is classed as an intensification of land use and one of the rules that immediately came into effect when PC1 was notified was that this activity required a resource consent.
To receive the consent, they had to be able to prove the land use change would come under the nitrogen reference point (NRP) for the 2014-15 or 2015-16 seasons. This NRP is the total nitrogen leached from the farm as calculated by Overseer.
Being guinea pigs meant the process was a learning curve for everyone. It was new ground for the council too and they were flying by the seat of their pants, Doug said.
Kathy said there were also no guarantees the bank would support the venture.
"It was an unknown to them and they were very cautious. We couldn't commit until they had okayed it and the bank wouldn't okay it until they saw that the council would okay it.
"It was hard because there was no blueprint for what was needed. We were finding it out as we went."
They sought out dairy farmer John Hayward for advice because of his long-standing relationship with the Waikato Regional Council and being last year's Farm Environment Awards supreme winner for Waikato.
Hayward's input and encouragement was invaluable, Kathy said.
On his advice, they hired Rachael Mitchell from consultancy firm Perrin Ag to construct a farm plan and to determine the two farms' NRP's to calculate what the new dairy farm's NRP would be. The process took two months and they received the consent a few days before Christmas.
That NRP was 66kg of nitrogen per hectare for the existing dairy farm and 19kg of nitrogen a hectare for their drystock farm. They had to provide records to show the council how they had determined the NRP and had to sign an affidavit to verify its accuracy.
The NRP for the expanded dairy farm was then calculated at 29.5kg N/ha. They dropped the stocking rate on the dairy platform to three cows a hectare to soften the impact for animals coming into the drystock farm and this helped push them under the required leaching limit.
"The way it sits today is better than the status quo," Doug said.
Having a comprehensive farm plan for the whole farm - dairy and drystock was critical. The resulting 56 page document is their blueprint for how they farm the property.
The plan looked at the whole system for both dairy and drystock and accounted for different stock classes coming onto the farm to maintain the drystock farm's flexibility while keeping under the NRP.
Doug is convinced that losing part of the land to dairying will not restrict the flexibility of his drystock farm. He will keep his 300 ewe flock as well as running dairy replacement cattle or dairy-beef calves.
"It's given us the flexibility to do a whole range of things. When we get a flush of feed and we need to cull some cows, we don't need to send them away straight away. We can put weight on them and use them to clean areas up."
The process showed the importance of good record keeping, Waikato Regional Council's land management advisory services team leader Alan Campbell said.
This allowed the council to verify whether the farm's existing nutrient losses were accurate when determining the NRP, he said.
"That was a point of difficulty in the process."
He said they were reviewing the process to see if it could be streamlined to make it faster in the future.