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Horizon One Plan 

Divisions within the farming community, and beyond became more pronounced in the past week or two with the fallout from the Horizon Regional Council’s One Plan Environment Court decision.

Both rural farming publications – 'Rural News' and the 'NZ Farmers Weekly' published strongly worded condemnations of the Environment Court’s ‘interim decision’ last week, and reported nation-wide ‘outrage’ from farmers who see the decision as precedent setting for other regions. The vitriol aimed at the Court, and DOC, and the Dept. of Primary Industry in particular for not defending farmers’ rights to farm as they please was universal, both editorially and in news reports.

The decision boils down to the amount and types of chemical and effluent run-off that may be permitted, and a proposal that pastoral farming become a controlled rather than permitted activity. This is a dramatic change that will require farmers to have resource consent for dairy conversion for instance. Conditions may be imposed at that point on the amount of nitrogen, phosphate and effluent run-off – either surface or through leaching.

Federated Farmers argued for the exclusion of sheep and cattle within the nitrogen regime, but Fonterra argued for the inclusion of all land uses. The Court ruled that all intensive land-uses be placed under the rules, and supported the use of the contentious LUC’s (Land Use Capability) in determining leaching limits. The introduction of these limits is to be staged.  

The Court ruled on a number of other issues including erosion limits, native biodiversity, and setbacks, but the overall effect is to limit intensification ‘at will’, regardless of the need to increase production to fund the repayment of borrowing on overvalued land. Intensification will now be subject to controls, and not before time.

A small percentage of farmers have caused this situation - they have fought hard using the age-old and emotive ‘ownership rights’ argument to justify retention of their ability to farm at whatever level of intensity they determine without recognition of the ‘rights’ of the remainder of the population to clean rivers and estuaries.

Reaction from every farming community will be strong, and concerted. Minister Carter is being prevailed on to alter the effects of the rulings through legislation, and he may well attempt this, but the decision appears watertight, and the ability to appeal limited. It is interesting to note that Vaughn Payne, Policy Manger for the WRC is reported as saying that the One Plan process was faulty, and he proposes a “one stop process chaired by an Environment Court judge hearing all political and technical views”, thus cutting the time determine these matters by several years.

He was “very hopeful” that the ‘technical alliance’ that the WRC has in place would achieve agreement on these matters at an early stage, and avoid prolonged facing off in the Environment Court. Interestingly, there is a close resemblance between the Payne proposal and what is being proposed in Auckland City by Len Brown to do away with the Environment Court process as we know it. 

But this Horizon One Plan decision may well alter the attitude of those who favour stronger controls, giving rise to greater resistance to the constant atempts to soften the pressure on farmers to clean up their act, exemplified by the recent 50% reduction of helicopter surveilance of illegal effluent discharges. 




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