Keri Johnston outlines the changes introduced from last month setting ‘good management practice’ standards for Canterbury farmers.

On February 1 this year, Environment Canterbury’s Plan Change 5 (PC5) was made operative. At its heart, PC5 sets industry agreed “good management practice” (GMP) as the minimum standard for all farming activities.

So, what are the main differences between PC5 and the nutrient management rules that have been operating in the Canterbury Region until now?

All farms greater than 10 hectares must be registered in the Farm Portal by July 1, 2019.

The Farm Portal is an online tool that, in the first instance, determines your consent status, but also determines a nitrogen loss figure considered to be the GMP equivalent for your farm.

If your property is less than 10ha, no consent to farm is required.

The use of Overseer numbers to determine whether consent to farm is required is no more. Instead, narratives are used if you irrigate more than 50ha or trigger the winter grazing thresholds.

These are:

  • 10ha for any property less than 100ha in area; or
  • 10% of the area of the property for any property between 100 and 1000ha in area; or
  • 100ha for any property greater than 1000ha in area.

There are some variations to these triggers for consent in red zones, as well as in the Waitaki Sub-Region (which PC5 also covers).

Winter grazing is defined as the grazing of cattle between May 1and September 30, where the cattle are contained for break-feeding of in-situ brassica and root vegetable forage crops or for consuming supplementary feed that has been brought on to the property.

For red zones, consent is also required if the irrigation area at February 13, 2016, was less than 50ha but has increased by more than 10ha since then. Until June 30, 2020, farms can continue to operate provided the nitrogen loss from the farm does not exceed the nitrogen baseline. From July 1, 2020, the nitrogen loss cannot exceed the GMP baseline loss rate (determined using the Farm Portal), unless the baseline was lawfully exceeded prior to February 13, 2016. There is absolutely no opportunity for increasing your nitrogen loss in a red zone.

For orange zones, the same applies as for the red zones. Therefore, the little bit of an increase that you were entitled to under the previous rules has disappeared under PC5. Unlike the red zones, you are able to apply for a consent to increase your nitrogen loss. However, the tone of the plan would suggest that this would likely be a publicly notified consent process.

Green zones follow the same framework as red and orange zones as well but allow a 5 kg/ha/year increase above the nitrogen baseline.

PC5 introduces the term “lawfully exceeded”. This is where the nitrogen loss from your farm was able to increase as either a permitted activity previously (such as in orange zones where you could increase your nitrogen loss up to 20 kg/ha/year without a resource consent), or you obtained a resource consent to increase your nitrogen loss. The catch is that these opportunities must have been taken advantage of before February 16, 2016. If the increase occurred after this date, it is not considered lawful, and therefore you are capped at the baseline nitrogen loss for the property.

Two more sections are now required in any Farm Environment Plan (FEP). These are for Mahinga kai and biodiversity values. Before your next FEP audit, you will need to make sure that you have included these.
PC5 potentially requires more properties to obtain a land use consent to farm than its predecessor. You have six months from February 1, 2019, to obtain the necessary consent (if required).

Keri Johnston is a natural resources engineer with Irricon Resource Solutions.