Farmers face tighter nitrate controls

RACHEL YOUNG
Last updated 16:37 04/12/2013

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Canterbury farmers will face tighter controls on how much nitrate can leach from their farms in a bid to improve the region's water quality.

Environment Canterbury commissioners are poised to sign off on the Canterbury Land & Water Regional Plan tomorrow which will put controls on the leaching of nutrients in farming across the region for the first time.

Commissioner Peter Skelton said the plan would require farmers and land users to improve their environmental performance to try to reverse the region's declining water quality.

''This does not mean, however, that farmers will be told what to do with their land - they know their own businesses. Whatever they do, they will be required to comply with the rules.''

Under the plan, Canterbury is split into nutrient allocation zones including where water quality outcomes are not being met, where there is a risk of them not being met and where they are being met.

Each zone will have slightly different rules. However, the poorer the water quality the more stringent the rules, Skelton said.

All farms will need to create a nutrient baseline, which is the average of nitrogen losses from July 1, 2009, to June 30, 2013.

In some areas, those farms that increase beyond a stipulated leaching limit of 20 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare per year after January 1 2017 will need a resource consent, and to complete a farm environment plan.

Federated Farmers dairy industry chairman Willy Leferink said the majority of farms would need to apply for consents based on the figures given.

He said everyone would need a lot more information on mitigating processes, but nobody wanted to pollute the environment further.

Leferink said everybody, not just dairy farmers, had a role to play in enhancing water quality.

Fish & Game environment adviser Scott Pearson said setting a leaching threshold was an important step.

''It's realising that we can't have this escalating development of land use practices without recognising the impact that will have on water values.''

Skelton said if a farmer was unable to get a consent they would either have to reduce leaching to the permitted rate or cease operations.

''If a farmer operates without or outside a consent, the next step is to issue an abatement order, followed by an enforcement order, and ultimately to prosecute if required.''

The plan also covers water quantity issues, earthquake recovery, land stability, flood protection and biodiversity.

If signed off tomorrow, it will be publicly notified in January 2014.

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It will become operative later in the year, subject to any appeals on points of law.

- The Press

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