Irrigation New Zealand, Feds, DairyNZ appeal Plan Change 5 after calling it unachievable

Chief executive of Irrigation New Zealand says Ecan's new irrigation rules are unachievable.

Chief executive of Irrigation New Zealand says Ecan's new irrigation rules are unachievable.

Irrigation New Zealand has appealed against "unachievable" new Environment Canterbury (Ecan) irrigation rules it says could affect farming's viability in Canterbury.

The challenge relates to the interpretation of good irrigation management for the amount and timing of water applications under Ecan's Plan Change 5. The plan change to the Land and Water Regional Plan came into effect last year and was prepared to manage the loss of nutrients from farming. The plan required farming activities to restrict their nitrogen losses to rates that reflected 'good management practice.'

"The plan change interprets this to mean that there is no leaching or runoff from each irrigation application. In technical terms we refer to this as 100 per cent application-efficiency," said Irrigation New Zealand chief executive Andrew Curtis.

Irrigation New Zealand is appealing Environment Canterbury's Plan Change 5.

Irrigation New Zealand is appealing Environment Canterbury's Plan Change 5.

READ MORE:* Lower Waitaki Committee and farmers concerned about Plan Change 5* New nutrient plan sets the bar too high, according to some South Canterbury farmers* ECan to fund more compliance staff following 'overwhelming' public support

"We will be appealing the plan change as it is inconsistent with the accepted industry interpretation of good management practice which is that there is 80 per cent application efficiency of water used for irrigation," he said.

Irrigation New Zealand is one of seven companies and organisations appealing the plan change. The others are Barrhill Chertsey Irrigation Limited, Dairy Holdings Limited, DairyNZ, Federated Farmers, Rangitata Diversion Race Management Limited (RDRML) and Ravensdown.

The appeal period closed last Friday.

Federated Farmers board member Lynda Murchison of Waipara said Feds was committed to working with farmers and Ecan to deal with water quality issues caused by farming activities.

"We think the plan change had some excellent principles," she said.

"But there is a problem with the model - it is spitting out perverse results. The activities with the highest nitrogen footprint; the model is telling them they are okay. And the ones with the lowest footprint the model is telling them they have to make big reductions.

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DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle said the organisation would be appealing the plan change in the High Court.

"Our key concern is that Ecan's modelling approach doesn't accurately capture the dynamic nature of dairy farm systems, and will increase the cost and complexity of consent processes without producing any environmental gains.

"The increased compliance costs have the potential to make agricultural production uneconomic in many parts of the Canterbury region," he said.

RDRML environmental compliance manager Reuben Edkins said his company was appealing the plan change on two primary points of law.

"We have a consent that allows us to develop existing land and the wording of the policy change would take this away. We think that's unfair.

"We only grow at a high level of practice, and the plan change will take that away.

"Also some of the proxy's used in modelling to determine the GNP loss rate aren't set correctly, and we have challenged these," he said.

Irrigation New Zealand estimates irrigation contributes over $5 billion to New Zealand's economy. About 65 per cent of irrigated land in New Zealand is in Canterbury, and this equates to about 500,000 hectares.

Curtis said irrigation benefits did not only accrue for farmers, but also across the community through demand for goods and services that productive farms created.

Since 2011, $600 million had been spent by irrigators nationally to upgrade to modern and more efficient irrigation systems.

Curtis said farmers trying to achieve compliance with the new rules could have to invest in expensive new irrigation equipment which might be unaffordable and even if it was installed the targets would still be unachievable for many farms.

"There are very few businesses that can say they are 100 per cent efficient, 100 per cent of the time, and farms are no different," he said.

"We don't know how much it will cost to comply with the new rules, but the investment in infrastructure required is likely to be significant with some farms being unable to meet these costs." Curtis said.

Irrigation NZ has commissioned a report to work out the likely impact of the new plan change rules.

"We're fully behind all irrigators moving to good practice – but the good practice has to be achievable," Curtis said.

Murchison said Federated Farmers had been talking to Ecan throughout the process. What the appeal proceedings did was give the council the option to open up their decision again, she said.

"Once the council decides on law, the appeal process gives everyone the option of getting back around the table to have another go at getting a methodology that spits out the results to head us in the right direction.

 - Stuff

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