Here's all the information about the new Freshwater Farm Plans.
What are Freshwater Farm Plans?
Freshwater farm plans (FWFPs) are being introduced by the Government as a way for farmers to address and manage on-farm risks to freshwater. FWFPs will identify practical actions on-farm that help improve our local waterways. The regulations will be introduced in Taranaki in mid-2024.
Freshwater farm plan regulations were introduced in the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater 2020 (NES-FW) as part of the Government’s Essential Freshwater reforms.
The actions outlined in the FWFP will be tailored to each farm and will complement the existing efforts of many farmers. These plans will work with other regulations, including nitrogen caps, stock exclusions, intensive winter grazing regulations, regional plans and consent requirements. Currently, farmers and growers are not required to take any immediate action. They should continue with their usual activities and follow their existing farm plans.
A FWFP must identify:
- The risks of adverse effects of farming activities on freshwater or freshwater ecosystems;
- Actions that avoid, remedy, or mitigate those risks;
- The plan must also set a timeframe within which each action must be implemented.
Over time, FWFPs are expected to become the central tool for farmers and growers to manage all their freshwater regulatory requirements.
The TRC will be reviewing and analysing the regulations to determine the best approach for implementation in our unique region, providing catchment information (context, challenges, and values) to FWFP producers for their farms and assisting affected farmers and growers by providing information and guidance to help them prepare and certify their first FWFP when they are introduced in the area.
For farmers who already have a hill country, riparian or other farm plan, the Ministry for the Environment expects existing farm plan providers will update programmes to include the minimum content requirements of FWFPs. The Ministry is working with sector farm environment plan providers to develop an effective approach. For a farm plan to be considered a FWFP, it must include the minimum content requirements as certified by a FWFP certifier.
It's also worth noting that FWFPs may become a section within the integrated farm plan framework. Integrated farm planning will provide a single framework for a farmer to bring together all their farm planning requirements into one place. But it is not a regulatory tool. The aim of the integrated approach to farm planning is to streamline compliance, reduce duplication and provide a structured approach for farmers and growers to lift performance.
Ministry for the Environment (MfE) webpage(external link)
The Government’s Essential Freshwater reform package aims to protect and improve our rivers, streams and wetlands to stop further degradation of freshwater, start making immediate improvements and reverse past damage to bring our waterways and ecosystems to a healthy state within a generation.
The National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020 (NPS-FM 2020) sets out the policies and the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater (NES-FW) establishes the regulations to achieve this.
What this means for people in Taranaki is requirements are being set for those carrying out certain activities that pose risks to freshwater and freshwater ecosystems. Anyone carrying out these activities will need to comply with the standards and, in many cases, people need to apply for a resource consent from the Council to continue carrying out regulated activities.
All of this is underpinned by Te Mana o te Wai(external link) (the mana of the water). Te Mana o te Wai means that when managing freshwater, the health and well-being of the water is protected and human health needs are provided for before enabling other uses of water.
Freshwater farm plans have been legislated under Part 9A of the Resource Management Act 1991(external link) (RMA) and the Resource Management (Freshwater Farm Plans) Regulations 2023(external link) (the regulations).
They are a farm planning process that puts the health of the whenua (land) and wai (water) at the centre of farm decision making.
Farmers will need to do an on-farm freshwater risk assessment and identify actions to manage (or mitigate) those risks.
On-farm actions to manage risks to freshwater will be tailored to each farm based on:
- the farm landscape;
- farming activities;
- and the local catchment.
Freshwater farm plans will need to be certified and audited. The results of certification and auditing will be reported to the regional council.
Many farmers already have a farm environment plan or are part of an industry programme and freshwater farm plans will build on that work.
Farmers and growers in Taranaki with the following criteria will be required to have a FWFP:
- 20 hectares or more in arable or pastoral use
- 5 hectares or more in horticultural use
- 20 hectares or more of combined use
Currently, farmers and growers are not required to take any immediate action. They should continue with their usual activities and follow their existing farm plans.
The actions outlined in the FWFP will be tailored to each farm and will complement the existing efforts of many farmers. These plans will work with other regulations, including nitrogen caps, stock exclusions, intensive winter grazing regulations, regional plans, and consent requirements.
- Reviewing and analysing the regulations to determine the best approach for implementation in our unique region.
- Providing catchment information (context, challenges, and values) to farm plan producers for their respective farms.
- Assisting affected farmers and growers in Taranaki by providing information and guidance to help them prepare and certify their first FWFP when they are introduced in the area.
- Regional training and appointing certifiers and auditors for the region.
- Implementing a compliance and monitoring system
- Identify the risk on farm, such as nearby waterways, taking catchment context and cultural values into consideration (we’ll be providing information on these values as part of our regional rollout).
- Identify any adverse freshwater environmental effects from farming activities.
- Identify existing actions that mitigate the risks, look for gaps, and list additional measures. Prioritise mitigating actions.
- Produce an action plan to cover several years.
- Engage a certifier to confirm your FWFP identifies the risks to freshwater and that the actions are appropriate.
- The action plan will become the enforceable part of the FWFP.
- Engage an auditor to complete the auditing process (timeframes will be confirmed as part of our regional rollout).
The Ministry for the Environment expects that existing farm plan providers will update programmes to include the minimum content requirements of Freshwater farm plans. The Ministry is working with sector farm environment plan providers to develop an effective approach. For a farm plan to be considered a freshwater farm plan it must include the minimum content requirements as certified by a freshwater farm plan certifier.
Farmers and growers are welcome to produce their own plans for certification. Guidance will be available to support farmers to do this as part of our regional rollout. However, we expect that many farm operators will engage a rural professional to create the bulk of their first FWFP to ensure it meets minimum requirements.
We are now developing a rollout plan; more info will be available in 2023 ahead of the rollout in mid-2024.