New dairy farms to need resource consent

BRIDGET RAILTON
Last updated 06:22 06/03/2014

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Owners of all new dairy farms in Southland now have to apply for resource consent after a contentious plan change was approved by Environment Southland.

Plan Change 13 was notified nearly two years ago and trialled in the past year, with Environment Southland adopting it in a public-excluded council meeting yesterday.

Under the new rules, all new dairy farms need a resource consent before becoming operational.

Applicants require a conversion environmental plan, which includes a soil assessment, a nutrient management plan and a winter grazing plan.

This imposes additional fees on top of those already charged for water and discharge permits and could cost farmers about $1000 in total.

Environment Southland chairwoman Ali Timms said the rule would provide the council with a tool to meet the community's concerns for water quality, while also meeting the council's national obligations.

The new rules would help to ensure Southland's water quality did not decline any further, she said.

The decision was met with disappointment by a Federated Farmers boss.

Federated Farmers Southland dairy chairman Allan Baird said his initial reaction was disappointment but he realised there was a degree of inevitability due to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater, which limits the amount of contaminants allowed in catchment waterways.

Federated Farmers submitted against the plan change because of a number of concerns, particularly property rights for farmers, he said.

Farming was a permitted activity in Southland, but under the rule change dairy farming would be a consented activity which could be detrimental to farmers.

Farmers often converted to dairy farming due to the bigger payouts, but they may miss out on that opportunity under the new rules and receive no compensation, he said.

There was also some frustration at how the process came about, with the initial discussions occurring at a time when communication between the council and Federated Farmers was low. But there had been better dialogue in the last 12 months, he said.

He believed the plan was workable as Environment Southland had been receiving applications from farmers wanting to convert and had been approving them during the trial period.

"Farmers are adaptable, we will work with what council bring forward."

Environment Southland environmental management committee chairman Nicol Horrell said he understood it was one of the first regional councils in New Zealand to impose consent conditions on farmers.

Other districts were looking at following suit, he said.

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The council had followed due process and involved the farming community, members of the public, local iwi, stakeholders and other local authorities, with a hearing panel established to hear submissions.

Mr Horrell said the dairy industry would be a lot more comfortable with it now after seeing it in action the past 18 months.

Because of the expansion of dairying it was not unreasonable to expect people to have to complete a thorough assessment on the land. Nor was it unreasonable for the council to be able to decline an application which failed to meet the standards, he said.

So far no applicant had been declined by the Environment Southland consents committee.

- The Southland Times

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