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Farming: Is your river swimmable?

09 Oct 2018

I am not so interested in swimming in rivers, they are a bit cold for my liking, but I do like to fish in them. I am as keen as anyone in wanting our rivers to have great water quality.

We had Blake Holgate, the local Rabobank research analyst on animal proteins and sustainability, speak at our monthly rural advisers’ breakfast in Dunedin last week. It was fascinating. He gave us a brief rundown on:

  1. Water quality as it affects farming
  2. Agricultural emissions

It was the water quality in our rivers that piqued my interest. There has been the goal of “90% of our rivers and lakes swimmable by 2040”. But today there has been a paper released by the ministries of the environment and primary industries called “Essential Freshwater”. Here they are talking about what they want to achieve in the next two years:

  1. Targeting immediate action and investment in at-risk catchments
  2. Amendments to the RMA introduced later this year to allow for the review of consents to more quickly implement water quality and quantity limits
  3. A new national policy statement for freshwater management to be developed by 2020
  4. A new national environmental standard for freshwater management by 2020, to regulate activities that put water quality at risk, such as intensive winter grazing, hill country cropping and feedlots
  5. Decisions on how to manage the allocation of nutrient discharges, informed by discussion and engagement with interested parties

From editors’ note: Release by David Parker, minister for the environment, 8 October 2018

Well, well, well. My first reaction is defensive: so long as the cities are doing their bit! It is easy for the politicians to target the smaller number of voters in the agricultural sector, but we will know they are serious when they ask townies to change their habits too.

After I’ve calmed down, my thoughts turn to the huge progress the rural sector has made in the past few years. Below is a graph that Blake Holgate showed us last week. It is interesting to see where Canterbury, Otago and Southland sit compared to the rest of the country. But what about Northland, Auckland and Waikato?

graph 7

graph 8

Source:  Ministry for the Environment - Clean Water.

The total annual cost of rural migration in each region, shown by land use category

grp 4

Source:  Ministry for the Environment (march 2018) Regional information for setting draft targets for swimmable lakes and rivers.

The cost of mitigation of the state of rivers and lakes is heavily skewed towards Sheep & Beef at 59% of the cost nationally. This is driven by the low level of stream fencing currently on this land, the expense of stream fencing on steep land where much of this land use is located, the need to invest in water reticulation following stream fencing to provide livestock access to fresh water, and the large area used for sheep and beef farming in New Zealand.

Keep asking great questions …

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