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Source: New Zealand Government

Good evening.

Thank you for the invitation to speak to you tonight.

I want to acknowledge the efforts of those farmers who put environmental outcomes at the heart of their decision making – and to encourage further efforts across the sector.

Most New Zealanders in both rural and urban areas want waterways cleaned up where they are degraded – and protected where they are not. This is for both environmental and economic reasons.

I know the vast majority of people who live in rural and urban areas think the most important waterway is the one they live closest to and use and swim in. And they agree with the proposition that if my waterway is clean and your waterway is clean then they will all be clean.

International consumers in the high value segments of markets have increasing expectations of sustainable production, as well as food safety and the overall health benefits of what they buy and eat. And they pay a premium for it.

Our brand as a country – and that includes our appeal as a tourist destination – is also linked to the health of our waterways.

We all have a role to play – farmers, local catchment management groups, farm organisations like Dairy NZ and Beef + Lamb, as well as environmental NGOs, scientists, central and local government.

We must find solutions to the issues we are facing.

This way we can continue to prosper in an increasingly discerning and competitive international market.

The growth in dairying, particularly in the South Island, has made the sector, its practices and effects, of increasing public interest.

The number of dairy cows in New Zealand increased by 65 per cent from 1994 to 2017 (or from 4 million to 6.6 million). This was concentrated in some regions, with Southland cow numbers growing tenfold over recent decades.

Last year the Essential Freshwater package was put in place:

  • to stop further degradation of New Zealand’s freshwater resources and start making immediate improvements so that water quality is materially improving within five years; and
  • to reverse past damage to bring New Zealand’s freshwater resources, waterways and ecosystems to a healthy state within a generation.

New Zealanders overwhelmingly supported the intention of these reforms.

For some years I have been highlighting some of the worst problems, including around intensive winter grazing (IWG), and am pleased we are now pursuing solutions rather than arguing about the problems.

In the 2019 intensive winter grazing season Environment Southland undertook compliance flights to monitor farmers’ implementation of required good management practices. This found widespread evidence of poor practice and this was reinforced by members of the public and the media.

The Minister of Agriculture promoted standards for animal welfare in 2019 and then last year we introduced regulations requiring freshwater improvements via a new National Policy Statement and a National Environment Statement (NES).

In September 2020 the Minister of Agriculture and I accepted an offer from Environment Southland and farming sector representatives for them to look at the IWG regulations in the NES-F, to provide practical recommendations for improving implementation and IWG practice.

We agreed Southland Fish and Game Council and Te Ao Marama – the local Ngai Tahu runanga – should be included.

The Southland Advisory Group has recommended that we bring forward the IWG module of farm plans, recognising that they can’t yet be done in compliance with the certification and audit requirements in last year’s Resource Management Act  changes and the NES. They have asked us to enable a trial of IWG modules this year by deferring the implementation of the NES permitted activity and certified farm plan routes for a year.

I have agreed.

The development, testing and deployment of a prototype IWG module is now being accelerated.

I have a commitment from the farming sector and regional councils to drive and clearly demonstrate real practice change for the 2021 winter grazing season. This is needed for animal welfare as well as water quality outcomes.

The regulation which prevents significant increases in the area of IWG without a resource consent will remain, and will be enforced.

During the year I hope we will perfect the IWG plan route in compliance with the RMA requirements, including certification and audit and underpinning requirements as to content. I also intend to update some details of the permitted activity route, which is a route that will still be needed.

 I have set out my expectations to councils and industry bodies. Increased monitoring and reporting by councils will also ensure measureable improvements in IWG practices.

Thank you to those who are helping implement improvements. We are not there yet. We do have to ensure nutrient and sediment losses decrease substantially.

I detect a significant change though, which encourages me to have hope. That is why I have agreed to these recommendations.

I know it’s sometimes hard for leaders of elected industry bodies, who have to represent all of their members, including those who are not onside with change.

I appreciate the leaders who have engaged constructively, and believe the outcome will see improved water quality to the benefit of the country and your members.