Groundswell meeting in Ashburton

A farmer group formed to urge the government to take a more practical approach to freshwater rules is holding a meeting in Ashburton next month.

Groundswell NZ grew out of a protest late last year when 120 tractors were driven down Gore’s main street in response to new freshwater regulations.

Spokesman Laurie Paterson said that while Groundswell was founded by a group of Southland farmers, farmers across the country were affected by the rules, which came into force last September.

David Parker

It is holding a meeting at the Ashburton Trust Event Centre on Monday, April 12, starting at 7.30pm.

Groundswell founders Paterson and Bryce McKenzie, who organised the Gore protest, will address the meeting.

Speakers also include Jane Smith, a North Otago farmer, environmentalist and “advocate for common sense”.

Jamie McFadden, of Hurunui, who leads the Rural Advocacy Network, will discuss the implications of the biodiversity national policy statement.

The network was started in 2017 by a group of North Canterbury farmers who felt that their voices were not being heard by regulators and compliance officials.

Meetings are also planned in Amberley, Greymouth and Fox Glacier.

A meeting at Waimumu, near Gore in February attracted 700 farmers.

Groundswell has asked for the national policy statement for freshwater management to be rewritten based on science and best practice for each catchment and farm, rather than adopting a national blanket approach.

“The government should be getting behind a more catchment and farm-based approach and making it work rather than trying to introduce an EU-type regulatory regime that is taking money away that could be spent on improvements and biodiversity.”

The pace and extent of change required by government regulations was putting a lot of pressure on farmers.

Farmers were all environmentalists and wanted to improve water quality and their farms, Paterson said.

Groundswell and Federated Farmers welcomed a government move to delay intensive winter grazing rules taking effect until May 1, 2022.

“Environment Minister David Parker has recognised workability issues need to be sorted, and that extra time is vital to ensure we get this right,” federation water spokesman and Mid Canterbury farmer Chris Allen said.

“This is not kicking for touch.

“The minister has accepted a commitment from regional councils and the farming sector to use this time to develop, test and deploy an intensive winter grazing module and practices that will ultimately be a part of a certified freshwater farm plan.”

There was universal recognition that the Essential Freshwater national rules had a number of unworkable parts.

The parts that relate to the regulation of intensive winter grazing were one of the first ones to take effect and therefore needed urgent attention, Allen said.

Ashburton District Mayor Neil Brown has met Agricultural Minister Damien O’Connor and Environment Minister David Parker to discuss the freshwater policy and its impact on the district.

Parker recognised some of the policy was unworkable and said there would be some changes.

The Ministry for the Environment will work with the council and regional council to find a way forward to continue the traction the district has already gained on the issues.

A hui for all stakeholders was planned.

“I see hope out there and that’s better than what we thought,” Brown said.

An Ashburton District Council report conservatively estimated that collectively, farm profitability across the district will decline $57.9 million (or 83 per cent) per year, while farm expenditure within the district will also decline by $139.9m (or 23 per cent) as a result of the freshwater reforms.

– By Heather Chalmers