Fresh water rules protect intensive farm

Fresh water and the environment is at the forefront of conversation around New Zealand and will certainly become an election issue.

The general public, media correspondents, non-government organisations and even politicians fail to understand and focus on what’s really in behind some of New Zealand’s deteriorating water quality.

Regional approaches and policies are failing to manage intensive land uses and in some cases are actually creating management frameworks that protect and incentivise intensive farmingto the detriment of not only the environment but also other more sustainable farming land uses.

In fact the effect of the Government’s national policy on freshwater management is seeing some regional councils allocating pollution rights to farmers. This approach is called ‘Grandparenting’.

The Grandparenting principle is based around historical use of Nitrogen by giving each property an ‘N Discharge Allowance’ – referred to as an NDA. Overseer nutrient budgets are then used to assess the nitrogen each property was deemed to be leaching during a set period of historical years of production.

Through the principle of Grandparenting the high leachers of nitrogen – for example, intensive farming systems – are allowed to carry on leaching nitrogen in an unsustainable manner. Nitrogen finds its way into our waterways through the soil profile or overland flow. Grandparenting effectively protects intensive farming systems.

Low leaching

Drystock farmers, low nitrogen leaching and organic dairy farmers on the other hand have their nitrogen leaching capped at low levels as they historically leach less nitrogen. This locks them into a situation which gives no flexibility for future farming system development or change in land use. The low leachers of nitrogen become the whipping boys by providing clean water to dilute the high leachers’ pollution.

The use of Grandparenting as a principle to drive regulation has no science base. It’s a crude expedient mechanism, a synthetic dial-up approach to manage nitrogen which is unsustainable and morally wrong. Grandparenting simply rewards the polluters.

Grandparenting incentivises perverse behaviour and gaming of the system. An example of this is farmers around New Zealand who are anticipating Grandparenting to be adopted by their regional councils and who are reliant on using high levels of nitrogen are loading up on nitrogen applications now so their historical records will allow them to carry on using high levels of nitrogen if the Grandparenting principle is adopted.

Sustainable approach?

So you have to ask the question – is this a sustainable approach to managing water quality?

The principle of Grandparenting to drive regulation has been used by the Canterbury Regional Council and now been notified by the Waikato Regional Council to drive Healthy Rivers Waipa Waikato Plan Change 1.

And we don’t have to look any further than Canterbury to see the evidence during five years with their regional council adopting a Grandparenting-type approach as the starting point to drive regulation. What once were swimmable rivers have deteriorated, one of the main contributors being nitrogen contamination.

It is so bad that in some of the rivers and coastal areas of Canterbury there is a nutrient overload causing algal blooms, a significant threat to human health.

This is simply because the high nitrogen leacher has been able to carry on leaching nitrogen. This combined with irrigation on leaky soils has led to this sad situation, which is now threatening New Zealand’s clean green reputation.

Now the Waikato Regional Council through Healthy Rivers Plan Change 1 is heading down the same track.

Industrial and urban

Two recent reports from the Prime Minister’s chief science advisor Professor Sir Peter Gluckman and the Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand highlight the fact that many freshwater systems continue to be under increasing stress and there are degrading trends in regards to nitrate and total nitrogen being driven from intensive farming and industrial and urban development.

So who is behind supporting and promoting Grandparenting to drive this principle within regulation…Guess who? Don’t point the finger at the individual dairy farmers as they are only taking advantage of regulation.

It’s those who benefit from receiving the majority of the pollution allowances such as ‘big business dairy’.

Our Government has failed to take the necessary action to ensure those who are polluting water are faced with the cost of cleaning it up, and essentially through a failure to act or provide leadership is supporting the exploitation and degradation of our natural resources.

This is the result of the perils of influence between big business and Central Government.


At a recent Environmental Conference I attended Environment Minister Nick Smith said the Government, through fresh water regulation must achieve two objectives. Firstly regulation must be science-based, underpinned by robust, measurable scientific data.

And secondly, regulation must embrace communities and sectors to drive the improvement in fresh water quality.

In regards to the science – the use of Grandparenting, as I mentioned earlier, has no science base. It’s unsustainable and morally wrong. It simply rewards the polluter and incentivises perverse behaviour and gaming of the system. So in my opinion that’s a fail Nick Smith.

Grandparenting has also failed to achieve his second objective because all it has done is divided sectors and communities. So in my opinion that’s another fail Nick Smith.

So man up Nick Smith, show strong leadership and outlaw Grandparenting as a policy and a principle to drive fresh water regulation.

In the Waikato following the notification of Waikato Regional Council’s Healthy Rivers Plan Change One – called PC1 – there has been an uprising by farmers against PC1 using Grandparenting to drive regulation.

These farmers are mainly drystock farmers, low N leaching and organic dairy farmers. A number of groups have been formed across the Waikato to fight PC1 namely Farmers For Positive Change – F4PC in short –the Primary Land Users Group – or PLUG – King Country River Care – known as KCRC– and Sustainable Vibrant Communities Awareness Group – called SVCAG. These groups represent in excess of 3000 farmers with numbers growing.


These groups want Central Government to outlaw Grandparenting and to incentivise policy and regulation for the common good of our communities, our farm systems and the environment.

They are promoting a sub-catchment approach, by empowering farmers and communities to work together to drive an improvement in fresh water quality. This requires an understanding of what level of contaminants are in their local tributaries and streams.

They are also promoting that farmers implement a Farm Environment Plan to give farmers an understanding of their land use suitability, then take ownership and responsibility for contaminants leaving their farms. In some cases this may result in changes in land use to ensure landscapes are managed in a sustainable manner to ensure our natural resources are preserved for generations to come.


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