22 Oct 2019

Farmers feel 'dictated to' amid proposed freshwater reforms, says Federated Farmers' Otago

6:30 pm on 22 October 2019

The government's intended freshwater reforms are seen by some in the rural sector as casting blame on farmers for the state of rivers, says Federated Farmers' Otago president.

Federated Farmers Otago president Simon Davies says parts of the district are in drought.

Federated Farmers Otago president Simon Davies. Photo: RNZ / Tim Brown

The latest part of the government's freshwater policy seeks to stop further decline in the quality of New Zealand's freshwater resources and undo the damage of the past.

Federated Farmers Otago president Simon Davies said it was disappointing the government chose a busy time of year for farmers to consult on the policies and that the agriculture sector was excluded from their development.

"Farmers are actually doing things. They know they've got some problems to be addressed and they are progressively working towards it.

"But they are certainly feeling they are being dictated to by non-rural people as to how they must do things and how they must behave, and they resent that to some degree."

South Otago farmer Phil Neame said the vast majority of farmers were already doing what they could to tackle environmental and water quality concerns.

"I'm part of a water care group. We've got pretty good buy-in and it's growing, there's been a big uptake by farmers that weren't in the group originally but they've come on board.

"We're meeting and looking at things we can do to improve our water quality. There's a lot of management things and a lot of science things you can do that don't cost a lot of money."

He said he wanted urbanites to understand the effort farmers were putting in and to take as much ownership of their waterways as the rural sector did.

He pointed to the water quality of the Leith and Kaikorai Stream in Dunedin as examples of how urban communities were producing some of Otago's most polluted waterways.

"We're blamed for all the water quality issues and I don't want to sound negative, but urban waterways are polluted as well. We live in a beautiful country and it's every New Zealander's responsibility to protect the environment not just rural people, but rural people have got to do their fair share too."

However, Mr Davies said he did not believe farmers were as maligned by those in the towns as they believed.

"Ironically, I don't believe the divide is as great as a number of farmers perceive it to be," he said.

"I get to meet a number of urban people and on the whole most people support farming. Yes, there are some practices they are questioning, certainly at the moment. But on the whole, they are not adverse to farmers."

Stream flowing through farmland, New Zealand.

Photo: 123RF

On the other hand, he said people in towns also should not think the cost of improving waterways would fall just on farmers.

"The district councils and particularly the city councils are frantically scrambling around trying to work out what the implications of this policy means for them.

"They are going to have massive, massive infrastructure bills to replace and upgrade their current infrastructure to meet these new freshwater regulations, because it does apply to urban discharges."

A one-size-fits-all approach to freshwater management would not work in a region as large as Otago region, let alone across the country, he said.

Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan said it was only right that everyone play their part and maybe it was time for those in urban centres to take a hard look at their attitude towards the environment and its resources.

"Just behind us here in the Manuherikia River, where the kids go to swim at Christmas, it's a beautiful river, it's got beautiful trout in it - we need to keep it that way, we need to look at some of its qualities and improve it. But not only the farm run-off, one of the places that has some E. coli issues on some occasions is just south of one of our townships and we have to [think] 'is that cows or is that people doing that?'"

Better science and better availability of information would allow councils to tackle the issues specific to their local waterways, he said.

Environmental resource scientist Rachel Ozanne, from the Otago Regional Council, said water quality in the region was reasonably good and the council's existing freshwater management framework was in many ways more onerous than what the government was suggesting.

She agreed that farmers, generally, were good stewards of the waterways in Otago but - just as there was in urban areas - there was room for improvement.

"I think everybody will have to do more with the new NPSFM (National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management) that is coming out and the level of engagement is at an all-time high for as long as I've been working in this position. But there's always room to do more and let's hope it continues in that way."

Consultation will soon close on the government's proposals with a report to be written from the submissions.

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