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Focus on environmental efficiency
Doug Leeder

Focus on environmental efficiency

By Elaine Fisher, www.sunlive.co.nz,  6 April 2016

A mind shift from intensification and production per hectare, to a system that focuses on environmental efficiency as the primary driver is required in New Zealand’s pastoral industry.

That’s the view of the Bay of Plenty Regional Council’s chairman Doug Leeder, who also believes progress so far on changes toward more sustainable farming is “significant but could have been achieved sooner with a future focus and better commitment from industry”.

The same is true of the recently released consultation document on freshwater management by the Ministry for the Environment and Ministry for Primary Industries, which Doug says is well intended “but essentially it is endeavouring to drag the unwilling or naysayers into the new expectation from communities, iwi and markets”.

The document addresses how fresh water quality is measured; on improving the way the resource is managed and used; improving its quality; and the role of iwi and hapu.

“Essentially, my view is that this is all very good but I would suggest the timeframes could be shorter. Is it acceptable that dairy support properties, both owners and third parties, should be differentiated and have the next decade to fence off waterways?

“I think not. Let’s note that this requirement only applies to land with topography of up to 15 degrees. Dry stock (beef) have until 2030.”

Doug says many farmers have already taken the initiative and met most of the requirements without the need for direction and regulation.

“In future it should be about the efficient conversion of inputs – for example, fertiliser, pasture – and water into outputs that ensure sustainable environmental outcomes.

“Overall the range of nitrogen efficiency conversion is between 20 and 45 with 45 being really efficient.”

Regardless of the region, farmers who are already operating at this environmentally efficient level will be disproportionately affected by a generalist approach requiring everyone to make reduction or improvements, Doug believes.

Whether it be water, fertiliser or nitrogen, the challenge for regulatory agencies and industry will be to ensure that we assist those environmentally inefficient converters to reach the levels environmentally focused farmers have already achieved.

“This is scientifically complex stuff but unless we have really good data it is difficult to make good decisions.”

Doug encourages Government Ministers and MPs to support any initiatives that will assist the transition to much more “ground truthing” of modelling systems such as OVERSEER and SPASMO.

Going forward, the role of iwi/hapu to many will be a major challenge, he warns.

“Te Mana o Te Wai is the tikanga for iwi and iwi approach to matters water. If you take the opportunity to avail yourselves of the chance to hear a presentation about or read ‘Te Mana o Te Wai’ you will see we all want the same outcomes.

“This matter is not going to go away and I would suggest that everyone actively participate in a partnership approach so the joint outcomes are achieved.”

In 2014, the Government provided $5 million to create the Te Mana o Te Wai Fund. The concept of Te Mana o Te Wai reflects the recognition of fresh water as a natural resource whose health is integral to the social, cultural, economic and environmental wellbeing of communities.

The purpose of the Te Mana o Te Wai Fund is to provide funding to enable Maori to improve the water quality of freshwater bodies – including lakes, rivers, streams, estuaries and lagoons – that are of importance to them by:

Supporting iwi/hapu to play an active part in improving the water quality of their local freshwater bodies.

Enabling iwi/hapu to actively participate in managing their local freshwater bodies.

Developing partnerships and working in collaboration with others.

Assisting iwi/hapu and the wider community recognise the importance of fresh water in supporting a healthy ecosystem, including supporting human health.

For more information on the Te Mana o Te Wai Fund, see:www.mfe.govt.nz/more/funding/te-mana-o-te-wai-fund