ECan plan could hit region's economy

RACHEL YOUNG
Last updated 05:00 06/12/2013

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Canterbury farmers say tighter rules around nitrates will hit many of them in the pocket, potentially affecting the region's economy.

Environment Canterbury commissioners yesterday signed off on the Canterbury Land & Water Regional Plan, which will for the first time put controls on the leaching of nutrients across the region.

Commissioner Peter Skelton said declining water quality was a "major issue" and one that could take a long time to reverse.

"These rules are a good start. Some farmers and other land users need to improve their environmental performance."

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.

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.

There are about 7000 farms in Canterbury, which have a wide range of leaching rates.

Skelton said it ranged from less than 5kg per hectare per year on extensive high country properties to more than 100kg on irrigated properties.

The plan enabled both environmental and economic development targets, Skelton said.

Alan Davie-Martin, a Canterbury Ballance Environment Farm award winner, said the changes would have a negative effect on some farms' profitability and capital values.

For many any output under 35kg per hectare per year would be a challenge, leading many to make "major changes" to their operations.

For some it might mean cutting herd size, which could potentially threaten a farm's profitability and viability, which in turn could impact the region's economy, he said.

"It's going to have a profound effect on how farmers will do their business," he said.

However, Davie-Martin's 141ha Culverden dairy farm came under another ECan plan, not the CLWRP.

Simon Manson, who has a 160ha dairy farm in Motukarara, said of the dairy farmers in the Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere zone more than 80 per cent would leach more than 20kg per hectare per year.

Despite his nitrate leaching rate currently sitting about 17kg - mainly because of heavy soils - Manson said the changes would "cost us all".

For example, he had just invested $200,000 in a new effluent system to keep his leaching rates at an acceptable level.

Manson said farmers would all have to "tweak" their practices, such as by using different grasses.He said farming contributed a lot to the local, and national, economy so this could have a wider effect.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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