Compliance challenge recognised
Environment Canterbury (ECan) said last week it would ease the burden on farmers in terms of their obligation to collect data on nitrogen leaching under the proposed Land & Water Regional Plan.
The proposed plan includes rules to regulate use of land for farming activities and the associated nitrogen loss.
In two of the nutrient zones identified in the plan - red (water quality outcomes not being met) and sensitive lake zones, the rules require farming activities to restrict average nitrogen loss calculation to that occurring during the "nitrogen baseline" (2009-13) period.
Commissioner Professor Peter Skelton said ECan recognised that many decisions affecting the way a farm will be operated are typically made in the third quarter of a calendar year.
"These operational decisions will have an impact on both the nitrogen loss for the current year (June 30, 2013 - July 1, 2014), and the overall nitrogen loss calculation for the next four years.
Consequently full compliance with the nitrogen baseline may be challenging.
"Because these on-farm decisions were made before the plan decisions were notified, there has been limited opportunity for farmers to take into account the constraints of the nutrient management rules."
In recognition of this, ECan has decided that the year from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014 will be deemed a transitional year between the nitrogen baseline period and the first full year under the plan's nutrient provisions.
As a result ECan anticipates nitrogen losses may exceed the nitrogen baseline. Farmers will not be penalised if this occurs.
From June 30, 2014 onwards, all farmers in red and lake zones will be expected to introduce management initiatives and practice changes that will ensure long-term compliance with their nitrogen baseline.
ECan reserves the right to take enforcement action against a farmer if the nitrogen loss calculation for the property is higher than the worst year in the nitrogen baseline period and there is no evidence of a genuine attempt to remain within the baseline.
After June 30, 2017 all farmers will be expected to be operating at or below their nitrogen baseline and ECan recommends all farmers consider what impacts farm management decisions made now and in future will have on their ability to comply with the nitrogen baseline.
Skelton said this advice strikes a fair balance in terms of the obligation for farmers to collect data without compromising the bottom lines which the rules are seeking to address.
"Farmers are given a grace period to get their nitrogen leaching information in order and we've made it clear that consequences will follow if milestone dates are not met."
Details at ecan.govt.nz/lwrp.