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Name change

Keen observers and readers of this quarterly newsletter will notice the departure from the previous title: “Healthy Farms – Healthy Rivers”.

It was evident that many readers of the winter 2016 edition found the similarity with Healthy Rivers/Wai Ora: proposed Waikato Regional Plan Change 1 caused some misunderstanding. In acknowledging the confusion generated, and with the aim of drawing a distinction between the plan change process and this newsletter, we have changed the title to “Healthy Farms”.

Wetlands ‘kidneys’ of our landscape

By Bala Tikkisetty

Intensive farming practices can discharge significant amounts of contaminants, notably nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment and pathogens, into our waterways.

Wetlands are like giant kidneys protecting the health of waterways. They help dilute and filter material that could otherwise harm our lakes, rivers and other waterways. Natural wetlands have been appropriately named the ‘kidneys of the landscape’, because of their ability to store, assimilate and transform contaminants lost from the land before they reach waterways.

With World Wetlands Day on 2 February, it is a good time to reflect on these and other benefits that wetlands provide.

Wetland is a generic term for the wet margins of lakes, bogs, swamps, ponds, rivers, streams, estuaries and lagoons.

Wetlands once covered large areas of the country. Now they are some of our rarest and most at-risk ecosystems. They contain a diverse range of plants and animals and are home to many rare and threatened species that are remnants of the original biodiversity of the area.

It is estimated that about 90 per cent of New Zealand’s wetlands have been drained and now occupy only about two per cent of the country’s total land area. This is one of the largest wetland losses anywhere in the world.

So the combination of more agriculture and less wetland contributes to the risks to our rivers and streams. But the effects of agriculture can be reduced by incorporating wetlands into farms. Sometimes it may be as simple as fencing out existing wet areas, or creating one with a low bank. Many farms have low lying and wet areas that can be managed as small wetlands with minimal impact on farm production, but potentially major benefits for water quality and biodiversity.

Nitrogen and phosphorous enter waterways through groundwater and surface run off. Wetland vegetation uses these nutrients for growth. Research indicates that wetlands remove up to 90 per cent of nitrates from groundwater through a process called denitrification. Wetland plants trap sediment suspended in water, improving water quality. In riparian areas, their roots hold stream banks together, reducing erosion.

Nutrient loss from farms is greatest when the volume and speed of run off water is greatest, either through surface run off or the soil profile. Therefore, slowing down and controlling water movements across farmland is a critical factor in reducing nutrient loss into waterways.

A series of small, shallow sediment traps or sediment retention dams can be constructed throughout the catchment to take some of the energy out of the water and if these are managed to remain wet for most of the year they will replace those kidney–like functions and enhance the farm’s environmental outcomes.

They will also regulate the flow of water by soaking up excess floodwater and then slowly releasing it to maintain summer flows or recharge groundwater.

Bigger is generally better, but within a farm small areas are good because you can create more of them, they are generally easiest to fit into a farm’s budget and topography, they treat the contaminants close to where they come from, and they can generate a more widespread biodiversity benefit across your farm.

Waikato Regional Council can offer free advice to landowners on managing wetlands, including information on fencing, planting and weed control.

Bala Tikkisetty

Good on farm biosecurity prevents velvetleaf spread

Inspecting velvetleaf on a farm.

Ensuring machinery, vehicles and equipment has been cleaned is critical to protecting farms from unwanted pest plants, like the invasive velvetleaf.

As of January 2017, velvetleaf had been confirmed on 31 properties across the Waikato region - an increase of two on May last year.

Investigations by Waikato Regional Council have confirmed that unclean machinery was responsible for the spread of velvetleaf infestations on some of the farms.

In addition to unclean machinery, our investigations into pathways to velvetleaf infestation also confirmed the pest got onto Waikato region farms and was spread via:

  • infested fodder beet seeds imported from overseas
  • infested maize crops and maize silage.

What you can do

Pest plants such as velvetleaf can have a massive impact on the productivity and profitability of farm businesses, so farmers and contractors need to be extra vigilant when moving between properties.

This spring and summer, council biosecurity staff have been inspecting properties identified during the initial response as being at risk.

You should be checking for signs of velvetleaf now too. During January and February it is expected that flowering will be most apparent. Flowers are buttery-yellow and about 3cm across and only open for a few hours.

If you find velvetleaf, contact our biosecurity team on 0800 BIOSEC (0800 246 732) and staff will work with you on a long term biosecurity plan.

Velvetleaf flowers are buttery-yellow and about 3cm across, and only open for a few hours.

Blackened seed head.

On farm biosecurity tips

  • Be weed aware.
  • Clean machinery and equipment.
  • Buy weed-free animal/stock feed.
  • Buy weed-free soil, metal and sand.
  • Treat your property boundary like a border.
  • Protect your waterways.
  • Do regular inspections.


Healthy Rivers: A Waikato region’s industry and community solution to managing water quality

By Don Harford

The Healthy Rivers/Wai Ora: proposed Waikato Regional Plan Change 1 seeks to improve water quality in the Waikato and Waipā river catchments. It was notified on 22 October 2016.

The plan is in response to the National Policy Statement for Fresh Water Management. Unlike other parts of the country, the plan gives effect to the Vision and Strategy, arising from co-management agreements between River Iwi and the Crown. Iwi want rivers that are swimmable, fishable and safe to collect mahinga kai.

While the objectives of the proposed plan are long-term ones with an 80-year horizon, the plan’s focus is the next 10 years. It will involve around 10,000 rural landholders and about 5000 farms will require farm plans.

Over the last two and a half years, the proposed plan change has been developed by a collaborative stakeholder group. This roundtable approach asked industry and community representatives to set targets and limits for water quality in the Waipā and Waikato catchments. They started their task early in 2014, assisted by an independent chair, a facilitator and supported by an impartial group of experts.

The approach has ensured communities and sectors most affected by the changes were represented at the table and able to provide input and feedback while the policy was developed.

The plan focuses on managing four contaminants to water: nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment and bacteria. It is hoped the level of these four water contaminants will be reduced by around 10 per cent in the first 10 years.

All landholders in the Waipā and Waikato catchments will contribute to improving water quality in our rivers through the work they undertake. The data collected during this time will also provide a solid base to determine where we head in the second decade of the plan as we continue on the 80-year journey to rivers that are swimmable, fishable and safe for food collecting along their entire length.

The main components of the proposed plan change

Land use intensification

This rule will limit land use change until 2026. The land use change provision is the only point that became operative from the date of notification.

Woody vegetation to farming, drystock to dairying, arable to dairying and any land use to vegetable production becomes a non-complying activity until 2026.

These controls are intended to be an interim measure to limit intensification until other policy options and mechanisms are established.

Farm registration

All farms over 2ha will need to register with the Waikato Regional Council by March 2019.

Nitrogen reference points (NRP)

All farms above 20ha and stocked at greater than 6 stock units/ha will need to provide the council with their nitrogen reference point.

Pastoral farmers have two years from which to choose their NRP, 2014/15 and 2015/16.

Commercial vegetable farmers’ NRP will be the average of 2006 to 2016.

Further, farmers above the 75th percentile will be required to reduce their nitrogen leaching to below this level by 2026.

Farm environment plans

The core part of the plan change involves farm environment plans (FEPs). These FEPs will be required from 2020-2026 depending on the priority catchment. The priorities and due dates are available at waikatoregion.govt.nz/healthyrivers. The higher risk catchments will be considered first.

These plans are required to identify current contaminants (nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment and pathogens), where these are lost from farms and what actions will be taken to reduce these losses.

Farming with farm environment plans will be a permitted activity under a certified industry scheme or a controlled activity, if not under an industry scheme. The condition of the farm plan will be the same regardless of the scheme chosen by the farmer.

Stock exclusion

All cattle, deer, horses and pigs will need to be excluded from permanent waterways by 2023-2026, depending on the priority catchment the farm is in.

The new rules recognise that no two farms are alike. This allows farmers to tailor their farm environment plans to suit their property. They can identify where environmental issues occur on farm and then indicate what mitigation will best suit their farming system, allowing them to ensure they get the most from every environmental dollar spent.

Submissions on the proposed plan change

Waikato Regional Council has recognised that this plan change will affect a large number of landholders.

To ensure everyone has time to read and fully understand implications of the proposed plan change, the council has allowed an extended period for public submissions of 80 working days, closing at 5pm, 8 March 2017.

For more information and to make your submission on the proposed plan change, please visit waikatoregion.govt.nz/healthyrivers