The Proposed Land and Water Regional Plan (LWRP) introduces many changes to the planning framework. This article focuses on the new and controversial farming provisions only.

New farming rules are in force, which contain various conditions that must be met for farming activities to meet permitted activity status i.e. no resource consent required under the LWRP. If the conditions cannot be met, resource consent may be required for current farm operations to continue, for changes to existing (as at August 2012) operations, for greenfield developments and for conversions from dry land to irrigated pasture or to dairy.

The location of a property on a district wide nutrient allocation zone map is fundamental to assess whether resource consent may be required. The map is separated into five nutrient allocation zones. At one end of the scale are pink sensitive lake zones indicating areas where water quality is most at risk and at the other green areas where water quality outcomes are being met.

Compliance with the new rules is separated into pre 2017 and post 2017 obligations. ECan indicated that the staged introduction is to permit the farming community a five year window to understand the new nutrient regime and revise (if necessary) their farm systems to provide for environment friendly nutrient outputs. The expectation is that public awareness of land use related nutrient loss will ensure that water quality in Canterbury's fresh water bodies is preserved for the future.

Three Environment Commissioners are tasked by ECan to determine the final content of the LWRP and the public hearing process is well under way. Hearings on the controversial farming provisions began in April and will continue until June 2013.

Ecan has now released its Section 42A report which contains recommendations that differ from the nutrient regime that was notified (and is currently in force) in the LWRP. This change of tune is a difficult pill to swallow for those farm operators who are still coming to grips with the introduction of a nutrient regime at all. The consensus is that the content of the report is once again, a shift of the goal posts.

The key differences are:

  1. Overseer is no longer proposed as a regulatory tool;
  2. The pre 2017/post 2017 staged approach has disappeared;
  3. The definition of 'change in land use' moves from being focused on nitrogen loss to being triggered where irrigation commences on part of a property that was unirrigated as at
    11 August 2012, any increase in the consented water available to be used on the property, a 10% increase in stock units or a 20% increase in cropping yield;
  4. The introduction of a grading system to farm environmental management plans;
  5. A new definition of 'high risk nutrient farming' which includes feeding cattle on fodder crop on irrigated land, arable farming, pigs or irrigated dairy – these activities are subject to greater nutrient restrictions;
  6. Provision for ECan to abstract various site specific property information including identification of all watercourses on or adjacent to the property, details of irrigation, description of farm management practices and perhaps most importantly monthly stocking rates including a breakdown of numbers, types and classes.

But it's important to note that the report is a non-binding recommendation from a consultant engaged by ECan and therefore does not indicate the final version of the LWRP. Despite ECan's recommendations, the Commissioners must weigh up all evidence and deliver a plan that is in accordance the Resource Management Act, including the purpose of sustainable management.

Until a decision is released by the Commissioners, expected later this year, the final form which the nutrient regime will take is unknown. The present is a tough time for operators who anticipate change to current farm systems (including market driven change) and the timing of any proposed development is crucial. Unfortunately, there is no blanket answer for all. Please contact us for site specific advice.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.