Farmers are being given different rules to manage winter grazing after Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor and Environment Minister David Parker announced changes to the rules on Thursday.
“The amendments will require the reseeding of grazing paddocks with annual fodder crops as soon as conditions allow, rather than by a set date,” O’Connor said.
According to O’Connor, specific digging depth requirements have been removed and replaced with a duty on farmers to take all reasonable steps possible to minimise the impact of bloat on freshwater.
A new condition was added that critical source areas in winter crop paddocks must be identified rather than cultivated or grazed. According to O’Connor, these changes will help protect soil and waterways by paying more attention to paddock selection and ensuring land suitability for winter fodder crops.
“Our economy depends on the environment. Cleaning up our winter grazing practices protects our freshwater resources, the welfare of our animals and our export reputation,” said O’Connor.
“The changes will come into effect from 1 November 2022, when farmers can plan for winter grazing in 2023,” said Damien O’Connor.
This was a postponement from the previous effective date of May 1.
Minister David Parker said data showed soil loss increased if winter fodder crops were planted and grazed on slopes steeper than 10 degrees.
“Under the changes, farmers who want to engage in intensive winter grazing on slopes greater than 10 degrees will have to specify their controls to prevent soil loss and reduce risks, either by applying for resource consent or in a certified freshwater plan as soon as they become available. ,” he said.
David Burger, Dairy NZ’s general manager for sustainable dairy production, said his organisation welcomed the changes but was not privy to the details.
“The two regulations we were most concerned about were the mandatory reseeding date and the plucking standard. We felt that a pull-up standard of 10cm or a maximum of 20cm for no more than half the paddock had no scientific justification and there was no guidance on how to achieve it,” Burger said.
Burger said the best method of addressing the problem was to manage the effects of discards by managing critical source areas and using the farm’s environmental protection plan to identify specific risk areas on the site.
The abolition of the fixed seeding date is also welcome, he said.
“The purpose of the fixed re-seeding date was to make sure the environment would not be damaged by erosion from paddocks to waterways,” he said.
“You don’t want to reseed pastures in the middle of winter as that causes erosion. It’s a pragmatic result,” Burger said.
Parker said the new intensive winter grazing regulations are part of the Essential Freshwater package, which requires farmers to improve farm practices.
“This package has introduced rules for stock exclusion, stocking, nitrogen fertiliser, rivers and wetlands, as well as other rules designed to protect freshwater and control risks,” Parker said.
O’Connor said the freshwater farm planning system, due to be introduced later this year, would provide another practical way for farmers to identify and mitigate environmental risks.
“We recently announced a $25 million package that will expand and strengthen the farmer advisory sector to help farmers with a comprehensive approach to farm planning,” O’Connor said.
Following the report of the independent 2019 Winter Grazing Action Group, ministers were advised and changes were made.
“I set up the group to focus on the importance of animal welfare in intensive winter grazing. The group’s final report shows that farmers have made progress, but there is still more to do and we will continue to support farmers to improve their practices,” said O’Connor.