BY: TIM FULTON
Hawke’s Bay farmers banged up by one of the worst droughts in living memory are appealing to the Government to cut them slack on catchment rules that will forever change the way they operate.
Hawke’s Bay Regional Council (HBRC) gave farmers in the Tukituki catchment till the end of May to supply details of a new resource consent regime.
Environment Minister David Parker has refused a Federated Farmers request to use Covid-19 emergency powers to extend that deadline by 12 months. Parker said he did not consider his powers would be able to adequately deal with the deadline issues in a timely way.
Feds Hawke’s Bay vice-president, Matt Wade, said the consent deadline was adding stress for farmers dealing with severe feed shortages and other problems.
“The country’s wanting farming to dig the economy out of a hole – and we’re in support of that but [Government] need to give us a bit of breathing space. They can’t say one thing and then go and do another thing.”
Wade estimated the HBRC’s consent plans would eventually affect up to 1000 farmers in catchments across Hawke’s Bay. He understood the rationale, but the region’s farmers were under extreme pressure.
“We’re not trying to bugger the environment or anything like that; we’re all on the same page but you’ve got to put rules in place that we can actually work within.”
HBRC was 18 months behind its original timeframe for introducing consent rules and it seemed unfair to now expect farmers to rush through the next step, he said. “If we’d been 18 months earlier, we would have probably had things in a much more useable format before the whole Covid thing.”
HBRC had come up with a “stop-gap measure by breaking the implementation process into three parts, the first of which was relatively simple form-filling. “It’s reasonably easy to fill out, but it’s the whole premise of them being late on their part, and then having all these other circumstances piled in on top that we’ve had to deal with as well.”
Farmers didn’t receive guidelines for the consent regime until late October last year, after which Federated Farmers started working with HBRC on a joint plan to adopt the plan “in the most practical and useable form”.
A planned consultation meeting in March or April was scrapped because of the Covid-19 lockdown.
Farmers needing to apply for consents in the Tukituki had since been unable to meet farm advisors or other rural professionals. “Then you put the drought on top of that so there’s been a slowdown at the freezing works which has created a backlog. And people just spending day in, day out, trying to feed and water stock.”
Wade acknowledged central Government had delayed proposals in the Essential Freshwater package because of Covid-19 economic damage but, even so, “we’ve just been asking to cut us some slack or to give us a bit of a breather.”
Federated Farmers has also asked HBRC to consider the drought as it calculates farmers’ individual nitrogen profiles and allowances when they apply for new consent.
Wade said the drought could skew the balance of the four-year rolling average of nitrogen used for consents. Farmers who had de-stocked drastically in response to severe feed shortages would have a much lower N profile than usual. An abnormally low N average would give them a much lower N allowance for normal farming, while an N result could shoot unusually high for farmers who kept livestock but bought supplementary feed.
Either way, no farmer should be penalised for having an “outlier” profile during the drought, Wade said.
Many parts of the upper North Island are dry, particularly the East Cape, parts of Waikato, King Country and Northland. Pockets of Marlborough and Canterbury are also short of rain and feed.
In May, the Government announced a $500,000 fund to help drought recovery for farmers and growers.
The fund will pay for recovery advisory services of up to $5000 (excl GST). It can be used for a range of advisory services and drought-related advice, like strategic planning, development of farm business plans, advice on sustainable land management, soil and pastures, animal production, and feed budgeting.
The Government has invested $17m this year to help drought-stricken regions.