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WRC Fencing Proposal Breeds Resentment in the Hills

WRC Fencing Proposal Breeds Resentment in the Hills

Drystock farmers have the most water on their land of any farming sector and are therefore key, in any final policy to improve water quality across Waikato. Under the proposed fencing rules contained in the Waikato Regional Council’s Plan Change 1, many hill country farmers will eventually be forced off their land by the costs of installing fencing and water reticulation. Worse than that, the installation such a vast amount of fencing will leave many of our smallest and cleanest streams - clogged and filthy with sediment.

Due to the nature of the ground, some hill country farmers may lose up to forty percent of their total grazing area, if the proposed fencing requirements are implemented without changes. “The absurd idea being espoused by some WRC staff, that farmers can somehow graze sheep on the sides of hills and cattle on the tops of hills is totally impractical and just shows how far out of touch the WRC is, with hill country farming realities” says Mr Andy Loader, Chairman of PLUG. “Furthermore if farmers are being told to ‘retire’ large amounts of land for the purposes of improving water quality, then surely, as freehold owners of that land they are entitled to compensation from the rule makers (regional or national government) for giving up their lawful rights to use that land. To date the WRC has refused to even discuss this issue of compensation.”

The proposed Plan Change 1 is heralded by WRC as an eighty year plan, to return the water quality in our rivers and streams in the Waikato Region back to pre-European times. But in actual fact it is only a ten year plan for the hill country farmers, who will be required to make huge investments in fencing off cattle from all waterways on all land with slopes up to 25° in the first ten years of the Plan becoming active.

"Stock exclusion up to 25 degree slopes and mitigation of every tiny creek on steeper slopes is an extreme measure, well beyond national requirements (NPS) and completely ignores the practical workable solutions adopted in many other parts of the country”. NPS requires farmers to fence up to 15 degree slopes, which will be challenging enough for many hill country farmers with large networks of tiny streams. “However pushing for fencing off slopes up to 25 degrees will be disastrous” says Mr Loader, “disastrous for farmer’s cash-flow and disastrous for the streams themselves.” “Any hill-country farmer will tell you, that fencing along hill country terrain normally requires significant earthworks with bulldozers to create a “bench” on the side of the hill to build the fence upon. The end result is many tonnes of disturbed loose earth which eventually travels downhill and clogs up the small streams with silt. If WRC try and force farmers to fence off the many thousands of hill country streams they will inadvertently be creating, huge sediment loads which will move downstream for many years to come. Maybe their computer models don’t show that, maybe town-folk don’t realise it, but that will surely be the long-term impact of the proposal. At best, it’s ill-informed policy making by a few people who simply don’t understand the hill country environment at worse it’s wilful ignorance by a council who won’t admit it’s got this part of the plan badly wrong”.

Lower capital values for this non-dairy pastoral land, reflect the lower per hectare profitability of extensive hill country farming systems, with fewer animals spread over much larger areas. A consequence of this less intensive land use is that the water is generally much cleaner in the hills when compared with our downland farming and urban areas. But it also means that capital fencing costs (or other measures) that may be readily amortised by intensive farming on smaller properties are beyond the means of most hill country farmers. The costs for stock exclusion on non-dairying hill country land have been calculated to be in the hundreds of thousands for most hill country farms. There is a very real possibility that banks will refuse to lend further money to fund such ‘non-productive investments’, leaving farmers in a very difficult situation indeed. The end result will be hill country farmers being driven from their lands, through loss in capital values of their land and wildly increased compliance costs. “The great irony of it all” says Mr Loader “is that those farmers with the cleanest water and the lightest environmental footprints are being asked to bear the heaviest cost burden - it’s not good policy making because it’s simply unfair”. He notes that within PC1 the current Section 32 analysis, estimated Nitrogen losses from non-dairy pastoral land use have increased by only 4% over the forty year period 1972 to 2012. “So what basis does the WRC have to try and push through a set of policies that will eventually destroy the entire hill country farming sector the small communities that depend upon it?”

Hill country farmer, Jason Barrier adds “The sad thing about this whole process is that it is turning us farmers against the council, when we should be working together on realistic solutions. Look, I ‘get’ that we all have to ‘do our bit’ and many hill country farmers are already making huge contributions, to both water quality and biodiversity. There are heaps of affordable and practical things we could be doing - fencing off our ‘critical source areas’ such as dams, wetlands and head-water seeps where stock tend to congregate. But when most of us can still drink from the little creeks that run through our properties and yet are being told by WRC that we now need to spend several hundreds of thousands of dollars, fencing them off - it just hardens attitudes and breeds resistance.” Mr Barrier says he, and many of his neighbours won’t be registering with PC1 until they see some real changes. “What farmer in his right mind would sign up to a plan that would stuff up his business, undermine his community and make the streams worse!? It’s time this council got serious and started listening to drystock farmers, so we can all move forward together and improve water quality. If they don’t, we will end up with what we have now - a ‘lame-duck’ proposal and endless wrangling”.


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