Nutrient Management and Waitaki Plan Change to be made operative

The Environment Canterbury Council today resolved to make the Nutrient Management and Waitaki Plan Change, Plan Change 5 to the Land & Water Regional Plan, operative on 1 February 2019.

Councillor Peter Skelton said today’s decision was the culmination of a three-year process  setting industry agreed “Good Management Practice” as the minimum standard for all farming activities. 

“The plan change deals with the effects of land uses, particularly farming activities, on water quality at a region-wide level, and ensures the effective management of water quality in the Waitaki sub-region,” Professor Skelton said. 

The nutrient management rules will apply in all catchments in the region not currently the subject of sub-region plans. 

“Resource consent, including audited Farm Environment Plans, will be required if properties irrigate more than 50 hectares or have more than a specified amount of winter grazing of cattle, depending on property size,” Professor Skelton said. 

“The nutrient management rules are intended to address the effects of changing land use and promote improved water quality outcomes throughout the region.       

“With this in mind we need to be clear about what constitutes Good Management Practice on farm. Industry groups have now described what this means for their sector. 

As a starting point, farmers should have a baseline nitrogen leaching rate that reflects Good Management Practice. “This is a requirement for farms requiring land use consent to farm,” Professor Skelton said. “Permitted farms need only comply with the irrigation and winter grazing limits.”

As part of the process to settle appeals on the plan change, an external working group was established to consider some implementation challenges.

“These challenges related to the need to ensure fairness and equity for all farmers without compromising environmental bottom lines,” Professor Skelton said. “I am confident that this work will achieve both of these outcomes and I thank the working group for its ongoing efforts.  

“Excellent progress has been made with our planning work in the last few years,” Peter Skelton concluded. “In partnership with the community, we are well on the way towards completing catchment-focused rules for the whole region, with sub-region plans for the Orari-Temuka-Opihi-Pareora zones and the Waimakariri zone due to be notified in mid 2019.”  

Background

The Nutrient Management and Waitaki Plan Change was notified for public submissions in February 2016. Council accepted the recommendations of independent hearing commissioners in January 2017. Eight appeals to the High Court on questions of law were received, three of which were withdrawn.

The Land & Water Regional Plan became largely operative in September 2015. It sets the framework to implement community aspirations for water through the Canterbury Water Management Strategy, a community led, collaborative approach to improve water outcomes throughout the region.

The Land & Water Regional Plan operates at two levels – a region-wide section and 10 sub-region sections. The policies and rules in the sub-region sections can apply instead of, or in addition to, policies and rules in the region-wide section. The sub-region sections implement the region-wide objectives in the plan in the most appropriate way for the catchment.

Sub-region sections that are now legally effective cover the Hurunui-Waiau, Selwyn Te Waihora, Wairewa/Lake Forsyth, Hinds Plains and Waitaki - South Coastal Canterbury zones.

Frequently Asked Questions

What happened today?

Council decided to make the nutrient management and Waitaki Plan Change operative from 1 February 2019, meaning it will have full legal effect from that date.

What does the Plan Change do and who does it affect?

This Plan Change affects farmers in many parts of the region and encapsulates the concept of Good Management Practice (GMP).

Key elements are the “consent to farm” process, farm environment plans and audit, most farmers needing to deliver GMP on farm, and farms that require land use consent needing to achieve “GMP nutrient loss rates”.

Some implementation challenges have been identified which Council, staff and an external working group are currently considering. These challenges relate to the need to ensure fairness and equity for all farmers without compromising environmental bottom lines.

The Plan Change does not affect zones that already have sub-region sections of the Land & Water Regional Plan – Selwyn Te Waihora, Wairewa/Lake Forsyth, Hinds Plains and Waitaki – South Coastal Canterbury. 

General

What is the Plan Change about?

There are changes to the region-wide rules for farming activities. These changes are built on a collaborative process to define “Industry-agreed Good Management Practice” across a range of farming types. All farming activities will be required to implement Good Management Practices to manage the effects of land use on water quality.

Specific limits and rules manage water quality in the Waitaki sub-region including the Mackenzie Basin - some of these rules are already in effect.

How will these changes affect farmers?

Farming activities on land greater than 10 hectares in size in affected areas will need to comply with the amended rules.

What is “farming land use consent”?

The process by which many farmers must apply to Environment Canterbury to continue their farming activities, preparing auditable farm environment plans and operating at Good Management Practice. More information below and at www.canterburywater.farm

What is a Farm Environment Plan (FEP)?

A tool to help land occupiers recognise on-farm environmental risks and set out a programme to manage those risks. FEPs are unique to a property and reflect the local climate and soils, the type of farming operation, and the goals and aspirations of the land user.  More information – www.canterburywater.farm

What is the audit process?

An FEP audit is an on-farm independent assessment of the implementation of the FEP to check that:

  • The farmer manages the risks identified in the FEP; and
  • They apply Good Management Practices identified in the FEP to minimise the impact on water quality.

 What are the implementation challenges?

These relate to technical aspects of the mechanism to calculate Good Management Practice Loss Rates. In some situations, anomalous numbers are being produced with potential for unintended consequences for some farmers. This situation needs to be fixed so the farm’s environmental situation is reflected as accurately as possible when farming land use consent is applied for.

How will fairness and equity for farmers be achieved?

As above.

How will environmental bottom lines be preserved?

The key features of the Plan Change (and the Land & Water Regional Plan) are in place – farming land use consent, FEPs, all farming land use consents requiring audit. Most farmers will need to meet GMP Loss Rates. Once the Plan Change is made operative, all these rules will apply in the Waitaki sub-zone, including the Mackenzie Basin, and key elements are likely to be picked up in sub-region rules in the pipeline, for Orari-Temuka-Opihi-Pareora and Waimakariri.

Effect of the Plan Change on different areas in the Canterbury region

How does the Nutrient Management and Waitaki Sub-region Plan Change affect Selwyn-Waihora/Hinds/South Canterbury /Hurunui/other areas with a catchment plan?

The following describes how this plan change will affect different areas in Canterbury once the rules become operative, including areas that are subject to a different catchment plan, or a sub-region plan change.

The area covered by the Hurunui Waiau River Regional Plan:

  • The Hurunui Waiau River Regional Plan (HWRRP) continues to be the operative plan that manages the effects of land use and discharges on water quality in this area
  • This area will not be affected by this plan change, other than a small area around the margin of the zone
  • However, it is important that landowners and others in this area are aware of this plan change, as it may be relevant to the future direction of water management in this area (it could be considered as a possible model for the adoption of good management practice in this area when the HWRRP is reviewed)
  • The HWRRP is currently subject to a plan change itself. This plan change, to remove the onerous potential impact of the so-called “10% rule” on dryland farmers, will be notified in the first half of 2019. 

The area covered by Plan Change 1 (Selwyn Te Waihora) to the Land & Water Regional Plan:

  • The Selwyn Te Waihora Plan Change became operative on 1 February 2016. This means the sub-region rules for that area now apply instead of the region-wide nutrient management rules. 
  • This area will only be affected by this plan change where the Selwyn Te Waihora Plan Change refers to region-wide aspects of the Land & Water Regional Plan (Farm Environment Plan content schedule).

The area covered by Plan Change 2 (Hinds Plan Change) to the Land & Water Regional Plan:

  • This plan change was made operative in June 2018
  • This area (which does not include Ashburton) is therefore not affected by Plan Change 5, except where the Hinds Plan Change refers to region-wide aspects of the Land & Water Regional Plan (Farm Environment Plan content schedule).

The area covered by Plan Change 3 (South Coastal Canterbury Plan Change) to the Land & Water Regional Plan:

  • This plan change was made operative in September 2017
  • This area is therefore not affected by the Plan Change 5, except where the South Coastal Canterbury Plan Change refers to region-wide aspects of the Land & Water Regional Plan (Farm Environment Plan content schedule).

 The area covered by Plan Change 6 (Lake Forsyth/Wairewa) to the Land & Water Regional Plan:

  • This plan change was made operative in February 2017
  • Unlike the above sub-region plan changes, this plan change does not contain specific nutrient management rules controlling the use of land for farming activities
  • This means the operative region-wide rules are the relevant rules for this area
  • This area will be affected by Plan Change 5 because this plan change includes amendments to the region-wide rules.

Other questions

How does this plan change add to the Land & Water Regional Plan?

At the time the Land & Water Regional Plan was notified, the pivotal role of good management practices in the sustainable management of the region’s waterbodies was acknowledged.

This plan change gives effect to a commitment made by Environment Canterbury in the Land & Water Regional Plan to codify and introduce good management practice into the plan by way of a plan change. The plan change also addresses administrative issues associated with current rules that depend on the use of OVERSEER® to determine whether a farming activity requires consent.

What will the plan change mean for farmers?

Once the rules are made operative, the plan change will mean some farmers will need to obtain land use consent to farm. This will include farming on properties [1] which:

  • Irrigate more than 50 hectares of land [2]; and
  • Use more than 20 hectares of land for winter grazing of cattle from 1 May to 30 September

These farming activities are considered to have a higher risk of nitrogen leaching, meaning a consenting process is necessary to ensure appropriate on-farm management. This includes a requirement for the preparation and implementation of audited farm environment plans. 

1.The Land & Water Regional Plan defines “property” as follows: “Means any contiguous area of land, including land separated by a road or river, held in one or more than one ownership, that is utilised as a single operating unit, and may include one or more certificates of title.” 

2. An additional condition applies to properties in a red zone where less than 50 hectares of a property is irrigated as at 13 February 2016, which is that any increase in irrigated area on that property must be limited to an additional 10 hectares. For example, in a red zone, the irrigated area can increase from 10 hectares to 20 hectares as a permitted activity, but not from 10 hectares to 50 hectares. This additional condition does not apply to other zones.

These plans are a vital part of the approach taken in Canterbury to effective water management. They provide a mechanism that ensures Good Management Practices are followed, without being overly prescriptive and limiting farmer innovation.  

For other farmers, consent will not be required, but it will be necessary to register and report farming activities to the online Farm Portal (see below), and to prepare and implement non-audited Management Plans.  The Portal requirements enable Environment Canterbury to gather useful information at the catchment level about nitrogen losses, which will be used to inform future sub-region processes.  Management Plans are another mechanism to ensure that Good Management Practices are followed on farm.

Why were the concepts of Baseline Good Management Practice Loss rate and “Good Management Practice Loss Rate” introduced?

These concepts were introduced to require farms to achieve a nitrogen loss rate that represents Good Management Practice. This ensures all farming activities are subject to the same standards, and it avoids “windfall gains” being achieved by some landowners as a result of historic farming practices that did not meet this standard of practice.

Requirements to ensure farming activities operate at a “Good Management Practice” standard are another feature of this Plan Change.

How do the concepts of “Baseline GMP” and “GMP Loss Rate” relate to each other in the rules?

The nutrient management rules use Baseline GMP as the limit for a farming activity. Provided that limit is not being exceeded, the intent is that consents granted under the proposed rules would allow flexibility for land use changes to occur, provided the losses for the farming activity never exceed that limit.

Any land use change that occurs within the limit (Baseline GMP) is still required to operate at Good Management Practice through complying with the Good Management Practice Loss Rate associated with that activity.

What is a Phosphorus Risk Zone?

The area shown as the High Runoff Risk Zone in the planning maps. PC5 amends the Farm Environment Plan schedule (Schedule 7) which relates to this zone. The amendment requires farmers needing to prepare a Farm Environment Plan to check whether any part of their property is within a High Runoff Risk Zone,and identify any critical source areas for phosphorus within that part of their property and minimise losses from that area.

What is the Farm Portal?

The method by which a property owner can access information on the baseline Good Management Practice Loss Rate and GMP Loss Rates for their property or farming enterprise.

What does the Farm Portal do?

The Farm Portal is an online tool that enables farmers to spatially locate their farm, find Good Management Practices and assess their property’s Good Management Practice Loss Rates. The Portal will also provide guidance as to whether a land use consent to farm is required and enables testing of OVERSEER® files to work out whether farms are to operating at Good Management Practice.

For more information on the Portal go to https://farmportal.ecan.govt.nz/FAQ

Does the Nutrient Management and Waitaki Plan Change mean more irrigation in at risk areas like the Mackenzie?

Intensification in “at-risk” areas like the Mackenzie Basin is restricted through new policies and rules in the Plan Change. Environmental gains and reductions in the nitrogen load will be achieved by farmers moving to Good Management Practice. Any application for resource consent in an “at-risk” area is required to have an audited Farm Environment Plan, identify areas of significant indigenous biodiversity, and list the methods that would be taken to mitigate any adverse effects.

How else is environmental protection in the Waitaki promoted by the Plan Change?

The move to Good Management Practice will help ensure there is no change in trophic state – particularly in the Ahuriri Arm of Lake Benmore. The Plan Change includes nitrogen load limits for aquaculture operations, community wastewater and industrial discharges, and policies and rules to restrict intensification that may exceed nitrogen limits. Biodiversity and cultural values are managed through Farm Environment Plans.

 

More information

For farmer-focused FAQ's, visit www.canterburywater.farm

For more information on the plan change, visit www.ecan.govt.nz/lwrp-pc5

For more information on the Land & Water Regional Plan, visit www.ecan.govt.nz/lwrp