Ecan’s Farm Portal flawed

Keri Johnstone

What a horribly wet month we have had (and yes, I know its winter), but despite the weather it has been an eventful month.

The Selwyn River began flowing for its entire length for the first time in years, which has seen many jump for joy (no pun intended, Mike Joy), regardless of how short-lived this phenomenon might be. Hopefully, too, all that rain will be recharging our aquifers.  So, what else has the month brought us here in Canterbury?

Decisions on Plan Change 5 (PC5) to Canterbury’s Land and Water Regional Plan were released at the end of June, 2017. PC5 was to bring into regulation good management practice, or GMP.  Eight parties have appealed this, mostly in relation to the Farm Portal (the online tool that will be used to determine whether you are farming at GMP or not), and how irrigation management and fertiliser is treated by the Farm Portal.

I am not familiar with the issues relating to fertiliser, but the irrigation aspect of the Farm Portal is flawed.  The Farm Portal assumes that irrigation is 100% efficient.  It’s not.  Even the best-designed and well-operated centre pivot irrigator is not 100% efficient.  So, what does this mean? Well, it means that anybody that has irrigation on-farm is highly unlikely to meet GMP as determined by the Farm Portal.

To meet this unrealistically high standard, farmers would be forced to upgrade irrigation systems, and for many there is a significant cost to this.

To meet this unrealistically high standard, farmers would be forced to upgrade irrigation systems, and for many there is a significant cost to this. GMP at its core is about “doing the best with what you have got”, and the failure of the commissioners hearing Plan Change 5 to acknowledge this and take into consideration the requests by industry to change the Farm Portal is a massive failing with unintended consequences for PC5. Because of the appeals, PC5 is not likely to be operative before the end of 2017.

We are also starting to get to the business end of the Healthy Catchments Project. This is the sub-regional planning process for the area south of the Rangitata River to south of the Pareora River and everywhere in between (known as the OTOP zone).  What is known as the “solutions package” is to be determined by September, 2017 (and that is now only a month away).  The solutions package comprises recommendations on how to manage the water resources of the OTOP zone and will form the basis of the sub-regional plan, and another plan change to the Canterbury Land and Water Regional Plan.

I have been actively involved in this process in the past month, both professionally as well as helping my local catchment group prepare a presentation to the OTOP zone committee on what it would like to see in the solutions package.

On this front, it has been a month of sheer frustration – chocolate might be off the menu, but plenty of wine has been consumed in attempts to ease the stress levels. At this stage of the process, the science is still not right (or not done at all), allocation figures are incorrect, and there is still a huge lack of comprehension generally about this process and the ramifications it could have.

There is an expectation that the OTOP zone committee adopts a solutions package based on incomplete science and on the ideals of the catchment groups that exist in the OTOP zone, many of whom still believe that no change to the status quo is needed, failing to understand that status quo is simply not an acceptable option (whether rightly or wrongly).

So, as August begins, I am hoping for a quieter month, with plenty of sunshine to dry out the place, and even though less wine should probably also be on the cards, that just doesn’t seem right.

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