Farmers have time to adapt to Southland Water and Land Plan

Sheep feed on a winter crop near Drummond, in Southland.
JOHN HAWKINS/STUFF

Sheep feed on a winter crop near Drummond, in Southland.

Southland farmers will have six months to have their consents in place after the Proposed Water and Land Plan rules become active.

Consents officer Danielle Petricevich​ told farmers at a field day in Tokanui on Thursday, that under the Resource Management Act farmers could keep doing previously permitted activities for six months after the plan is rubber stamped, as long as there were no changes to the farming practices.

Since the plan was notified in June last year the rules have been in legal effect, unless they had a future date for their start.

No consents had been issued for any of the rules yet, Petricevich said.

READ MORE: Southland farmers concerned proposed Water and Land Plan will cut land use 

When questioned about how much it would cost farmers to get consents for activities they had previously been permitted to do, Petricevich said the standard deposit for a consent was $1350, but the actual cost could be less or more depending on how many hours the consents team worked on the application.

She allayed farmers' fears they would have to get new consents yearly, and said it was possible there would be five-year consents granted for land, provided farmers gave information about what paddocks using for cultivation and grazing for those years.

However, the information did not have to be especially detailed, as long as the paddocks had been identified, she said.

The field day included a talk from AgResearch Invermay scientist Tom Orchiston about strategic winter grazing to reduce runoff and improve water quality.

Orchiston told farmers winter grazing could cause structural soil damage and may lead to runoff containing sediment, phosphorus and E. coli.

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​Before grazing, farmers should consider their paddock selection to minimise environmental losses, thinking about the soil type and slope, with heavier soils at higher risk of compaction. Stock class and placement of supplements should also be considered, Orchiston said.

Farmers should begin by grazing stock from the top of the slope and working them down, keeping out of critical source areas for as long as possible, he said.

Studies done at Telford found sediment losses could be reduced by up to 80 per cent through strategic grazing, he said.

Critical source areas should be managed with little to no stock access, unless for limited time to graze crops, while wet areas should be fenced off and stock excluded from waterways, he said. Breaks should be long and narrow where possible and farmers should regularly back fence.

Agribusiness consultant Deane Carson, who led the field day, showed farmers options to cost effectively monitor their waterways.

Dubbed "citizen science" Carson used vials to test for nitrates and phosphorus through an app and special machine. Each test cost $7, while the machine and app were $250.

Meanwhile, mini petrie dishes were able to test for E. Coli through processing in an egg incubator. Each test was $5.

Carson said these tests might not be not as accurate as soil and water testing, but were accurate enough and put some power back in the hands of farmers. Farmers would be able to monitor their own waterways to see what impact they were having, he said.

"If you can see where your opportunities are you can target them to make a difference."

After grazing a paddock farmers could protect the soils and prevent runoff through getting the animals onto the next paddock promptly, by minimising the disturbance of the wet soil from stock and machinery and allowing soils to dry before cultivating.

 - Stuff

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