Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Land use consents part of farming’s future


​As regional councils across New Zealand roll out their land and water plans, the farming sector faces a whole raft of new challenges.

There are different definitions and timelines floating around depending on where you happen to farm, but one of these looming new challenges is the issue of land use consent. Farmers have always faced discharge consents and ground water take consents. The impact of the new requirement for a land use consent is potentially huge. Behind all the jargon and “planning speak,” it can be easy to forget the fact that this consent is about the future of your farm over the next five to 25 years.

While its importance can’t be underestimated, the land use consent process and terminology can be daunting. When it comes to nutrient management, here are four ways to approach the consent conundrum.

Insist on a certified advisor

Given the complexity of what is required when applying for a resource consent and the potential economic implications to your farming business, it is vitally important that the farm consultant undertaking this work is suitably qualified and experienced in farm systems and knows your business inside and out.

When it comes to your nutrient management advisor or environmental consultant, certification is a good indicator of the individual’s expertise. For example, Ravensdown Environmental Consultants are all certified under the Certified Nutrient Management Advisor scheme which was developed by the Fertiliser Association of New Zealand and DairyNZ.

For complex and fast-changing resource management issues, a specialist law firm like Anderson Lloyd could hold many advantages over a traditional conveyancing lawyer.

Outsource advice, but own the problem

Whoever you choose to advise you, remember it’s only advice. What gets recommended and decided could determine your farm management practices potentially for decades. So it is extremely important that the landowner takes responsibility and is 100% comfortable with any potential changes in farm management before submitting the resource consent application.

The importance of a plan

Most land use consent applications require a farm management plan. Depending on the region, this can be called a Farm Environment Plan, Nutrient Management Plan or a Farm Environmental Management Plan. Whatever it is called, this document essentially outlines the management practices on the farm and aims to minimise the nutrient, sediment and microbial losses to surface water and groundwater.

The plan will also include the outputs of an OVERSEER nutrient budget and a plan as to how the applicant will comply with regional council regulations. The document gives the landowner a chance to discuss any environmental achievements and other good management practices which may not be accounted for in an OVERSEER nutrient budget, such as extensive riparian planting or the creation of a functional wetland.

Look for low hanging fruit

You don’t always have to jump straight to large system changes that vary from traditional farming practices such as a reduction in stocking rate, large reductions in nitrogen fertiliser, the introduction of herd homes or earlier culling in the autumn.

While in some cases these may be viable options, for example, with dairy conversions on land where nutrients are already over-allocated, the most prudent approach is to start with “low-hanging fruit”. This commonly includes; removing mid-winter nitrogen applications, increasing the size of the effluent block, upgrading effluent systems, effluent storage, increasing water use efficiency through soil moisture monitoring, using low-protein supplementary feeds and wintering stock off-farm.