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Farmers call for extension to six-week consultation period on freshwater rules

Tom Nuel

Sept. 13, 2019

Rural industry leaders are pleading with the Ministry for the Environment to extend the six-week consultation time for its proposed new freshwater rules.
Federated Farmers said was is "asking nicely" for the Government to immediately extend the timeframe of the Essential Freshwater consultation so a pathway can be found that provides for both the health of the water, the health of people and the health of communities.
Federated Farmers president Katie Milne "it's bloody hard on farmers to be facing such challenges, and change, and not feel like they can have some input".
The Ministry announced its proposed freshwater rules earlier this month, which would impose stricter standards to improve New Zealand's waterways, cracking down on farming practices and increasing regulation.
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The Ministry has not responded to a request for comment about the calls for the extension.
Federated Farmers shares the community's vision for measurable improvements to water quality, but farmers have been critical of the timing of both the announcement and the six week consultation period.
It was the busiest time of the year on farms, with lambing, calving and mating under way.
"This is not us stalling for time. Normally consultation on something of this significance would be given six months, not six weeks. You have to give the people time to engage," Milne said.
That sentiment was shared by DairyNZ chief executive Dr Tim Mackle, who says farmers need more time to carefully weigh up the impact it may have on their farms, families and communities.
"Essential Freshwater will significantly impact the way we farm in New Zealand. If this process is to have any integrity the Minister must extend the consultation period to allow farmers time to digest the proposal and engage in a meaningful way."
MP for Waitaki Jacqui Dean said the six-week consultation timeframe was "blatantly unfair".
"This is the time of year when many farmers are working 12-hour days. They are unlikely to be able to read this weighty document, let alone find time to write a submission and I think it's blatantly unfair.
"In fact some farmers have even suggested that the Environment Minister intentionally released the proposals at a time when he knew many farmers would be unable to give it their full attention because he didn't want to listen to them."
However, Fish and Game New Zealand was critical of Federated Farmers' reaction to the proposed rules, saying the organisation was "still in denial that they have directly contributed to the degradation of New Zealand's long heritage of freshwater recreation, continuing to look for anyone else to blame".
Chief executive Martin Taylor said the new standards should have minimal implications for farmers who were already following best practice.
"However, farming's bad performers are having a disproportionate effect and are severely damaging our rivers, lakes and streams, taking away the ability of Kiwis to enjoy their waterways.
"The proposals in the Government's discussion document are intended to make sure everyone contributes. It's the view of Fish & Game New Zealand that best practice should become usual mandatory practice."
Consultation on the new rules has begun in Southland , where the Ministry held meetings in Invercargill on Wednesday night and at Winton on Thursday morning.
Southland Federated Farmers said it received 359 apologies from farmers who were unable to attend the Invercargill meeting, and at Winton some farmers had to sit outside because the venue was too small.
When the proposal was released, Southland Federated Farmers president said the new rules could force farmers to walk off their land .
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