Should Kees Zeestraten be granted consents for a huge dairying development in the South Island's Mackenzie Country?
Plans for a large-scale irrigated dairy development in the Mackenzie Country remain stymied.
This is despite the proposal being reduced from 7000 cows to 4200, an additional 1800 hectares of land being offered for QEII Trust convenanting and $500,000 being spent on mediation.
Dairy farmer Kees Zeestraten's original proposal was to irrigate 2000ha of flat land between Twizel and Lake Ohau and establish seven 1000-cow farms, with the animals housed for part of the year.
When resource consent was turned down, he appealed to the Environment Court, made big changes to the proposal and went into court-directed mediation.
"To date we've spent towards $3 million in the process of trying to get water and to be honest I'm gutted that it cost so much to get to this point and still not having water," Zeestraten told farmers at a Federated Farmers high country field day.
"If I'd taken that money and put it in the farm I would have been much further ahead in terms of growing feed and farming it."
Zeestraten believes he is close to a solution with 80 per cent of the original objectors, including the Department of Conservation and Forest and Bird. "I can't give too many details because that's not the right thing to do, although it's difficult to say if we are in mediation or out of mediation."
But he believes nearby Ohau Snowfield remains firmly opposed to the proposal.
"It's just a holding-up process. They've been in mediation and I've given it everything to try to make it work for everybody, and I'm still not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel."
Ohau Snowfield owner Mike Neilson said he couldn't comment, on the advice of his lawyer. "We are in a mediation process which is confidential and without prejudice. I can't speak, it's as simple as that. Once the whole thing comes back into the public forum . . I'm deeply concerned about this matter and very happy to talk to you then."
In total, Zeestraten owns 7300ha, comprising the 5200ha Ohau Downs Station and the adjoining Glenary property. He says if his proposal is approved, nearly 40 per cent of the land would be protected by covenant.
"The concessions we're making are real and will cost me a large tract of land. At the moment 1200ha are in QE2 and I'm not sure about the final survey but the total could be near 3000ha, which is massive.
"None of the irrigation is adjacent or anywhere near the lake [Ohau]. The corridor to Lake Ohau is not proposed for irrigation, it is just dryland farming. The irrigation is invisible from the lake and even from the Lake Ohau road, it's in the distance."
Under the rejigged proposal, there would be three 1400-cow farms on 1493ha, with the animals housed all year round "to make the nutrient loading stand up on the soils".
Overseer modelling showed the proposal would actually reduce total nitrogen leaching on the property, said Zeestraten. "Because we're going to put them inside and we're going to control the nutrients, the figure we have got coming out the bottom is 11kg of N per hectare, which is slightly below what I'm doing now.
"The only difference is having the cows inside, the production target levels are much higher and we'd be aiming for in excess of 700kg milksolids a cow. That would be a million kilos per site and a gross turnover in the vicinity of $20m."
Zeestraten said he has made numerous concessions, including, on request, moving some of the irrigation proposed on Ohau Downs on to Glenary, further away from Lake Ohau and the outwash plains north-east of Lake Ohau Rd and from sight.
"I'm not a redneck, I like to work together so originally my application had the corridor of Ohau set aside and I wasn't going to go on the landscape side of it. I'd already taken that into consideration, but I'm getting the feeling that it doesn't matter what you do."
With consent seemingly still a long way off, Zeestraten anticipates he could easily spend another $500,000 on mediation with no guarantee of success. For now he will continue to use the high country property to graze sheep and lambs under contract and to winter up to 6000 cows from his six Southland farms, as well as his ex-wife's two properties.
The cows run on 3000ha, at a stocking rate of about two cows per hectare. They're fed on the 15,000 tonne of silage and 1 million kg of fodder beet grown on the property.
If he can't get his irrigation proposal consented, Zeestraten said he will continue to run sheep and winter cows on his high country stations but he doesn't believe that would be the best outcome.
"DOC and Forest and Bird would actually miss out on an opportunity to have a big block of land covenanted in the high country which is not hill country, it's flat country. It would be a real loss to them to not see this go ahead."