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Farmers seeking info on complying to water quality rules

More farmers seeking information on how to comply with water quality rules

More Otago farmers are looking for information and advice on how to minimise their operation’s impact on water quality and comply with rules in the Otago Water Plan.

That’s one of the key findings of the Otago Regional Council’s annual survey to monitor the level of understanding and uptake among farmers about meeting their responsibilities under the Water Plan.

In last year’s survey, only 7 percent of sheep, beef and dairy farmers said they needed more information on how to comply with the rules. That figure has doubled to 14 percent, independent survey company Versus Research has found.

Just over half the farmers who took part in the survey said they had an excellent (13%) or good (39%) understanding of what they needed to do to comply, which is unchanged from the 2015 and 2016 results.

ORC chief executive Peter Bodeker said the surge in respondents looking for more information suggested that farmers were not being complacent about the impact their practices had on water quality. People who might previously have assumed they knew what was required of them were now aware that they needed to be better informed.

Overall, 11 percent of the survey respondents said they had made all the changes they need to ensure their operation was compliant, while 38% said they had made most of the required changes (up from 28% in 2015 and 35% last year). Thirty-five percent said they had made some of the changes (up from 31% last year), while just 14 percent said they had not yet made any changes to their farming practices (a decrease from last year).

Mr Bodeker said the figures relating to land management changes needed to be considered in context since farmers reported they were mainly carrying out fencing and changing effluent systems – tasks which are both costly and time-consuming.

The survey findings confirm that some farmers remain unclear about the rules in the Water Plan and the changes they need to make in order to comply.

Mr Bodeker said the council acknowledged that many farmers were looking for more support and advice and had several initiatives to address this.

These included:

• Developing a more comprehensive and user-friendly guidebook to replace the fact pack that has been distributed to farmers in the past.

• ORC staff attending more farmer, industry, and catchment group meetings so farmers can ask questions relating specifically to their property.

• ORC staff attending field days, and a roadshow visiting 15 locations around the region planned in the next financial year.

• Building awareness of ORC’s On-Stream e-newsletter and dedicated Good Water in Otago Facebook page as sources of information.

• Subject to confirmation of the council’s Annual Plan at the end of the month, the council is also proposing to offer an Environmental Risk Assessment service to individual farmers, supported by the creation of three additional positions to help deliver this service.

“We are aware that many farmers are responding positively to our unique, effects-based approach to water quality compliance and we are committed to ensuring that those who are unclear or confused get the targeted information they need to do the same,” Mr Bodeker said.

The results of the survey will be considered by the ORC’s Communications Committee tomorrow (Wednesday 14 June) – the agenda is at http://www.orc.govt.nz/Meetings-Consultations-and-Events/Council-meetings-and-Agendas/

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