Environment Southland has today approved the introduction of a transitional policy that will require all new dairy conversions to obtain resource consent before becoming operational.
Councillors voted to accept the transitional policy to counter the environmental effects of new dairy farming on marginal land, with the objective of halting the decline in the region’s water quality. The change makes new dairy conversions a discretionary activity, providing the Council scope to decline a consent if the risk to the environment is too great.
From 14 April, new applications will require a farm management plan, which will include a soil assessment, a nutrient management plan and a winter grazing plan.
Chairman Ali Timms said the new rule will provide a valuable tool for anyone wanting to convert a property to establish the level of risk involved and its possible impact on the environment.
“It’s all about due diligence which as important part of any land use change on a property.”
The Council appreciated there was some concern within the rural community about what impact the changes could have, but there had been an element of fear mongering, she said.
Land Sustainability staff have told councillors that once the rule had been clearly explained to farmers, they took no issue with it. It was also important for farmers to understand that under the provisions, existing dairy operations will not require resource consent, Ms Timms said.
Earlier in the meeting and speaking in the public forum, members of the Federated Farmers executive, supported by about 70 affiliates, criticised the Council for a lack of public consultation and the science that supported the change.
However there was support for the rule from Federated Farmers Southland President Hugh Gardyne, who spoke as an individual at the meeting.
He said the rule was not about the doubling of the dairy industry in the past 10 years and the maintenance of water quality but its growth in the next decade and how that expansion can be accommodated without environmental degradation.
“It is surprising dairy farmers are here today to oppose a new policy that will secure their future, and improve the community perception of their industry.”
But Ms Timms delivered resounding support of the work carried out by Council scientists.
“The Council completely supports the State of the Environment reporting and the scientific methodology adopted by staff, which has driven these changes.”
Opposition to it had only taken fragments of information, when in its totality the information provided clear indication that water quality was declining as a result of intensive land use, she said.
The Office of the Auditor General and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment had reached the same conclusion.
Ms Timms also said the Federation’s delegation, that in December asked for time to consult with the Council, had elected not be involved.
“It’s disappointing that the executive members walked out on that opportunity.”
However they, like all other members of the public, will have the opportunity to have their say in the submission process that will take place, Ms Timms said.