Plan Change 2 - Existing Intensive Farming Land Uses

Plan Change 2 (PC2) sought to improve the workability of the One Plan provisions that manage existing intensive farming land uses (dairy farming, commercial vegetable growing, cropping and intensive sheep and beef) in target water management sub-zones. Horizons identified that the policies and rule framework for managing existing intensive farming land uses were not working in the manner intended at the time the One Plan was made operative. The One Plan intended for most farms using good management practice to be able to meet Table 14.2 cumulative nitrogen leaching maximums, and be considered as controlled activities.

PC2  has clarified and amended the nutrient management framework so it effectively works towards achieving the strategies for surface water quality set out in the One Plan. The Plan change has updated the cumulative nitrogen leaching maximums in Table 14.2 to reflect the best available OVERSEER modelling information; provides a workable pathway for existing intensive farming land use activities to apply for resource consent where they cannot meet Table 14.2 within targeted water management sub-zones; and reinforces good management practices as part of intensive farming land use activities. PC2 enables Horizons to return to effective regulation of existing intensive farming land uses through the One Plan as soon as practicable.

A full copy of the decisions on PC2 can be viewed below. 

Plan Change 2 is currently under appeal to the Environment Court. Four appeals were lodged against the decision of Council, with eight parties joining the appeal proceedings as interested parties (known as section 274 parties). Some parties have since withdrawn from the proceedings.
There is more information about the Court and appeals processes available here.

Plan Change 2 Timeline

  • Submissions close 21 October, 2019 05:00 pm

  • Further submission period closed 03 December, 2019 05:00 pm

  • Pre-hearing meetings May, 2020 to June, 2020

  • Expert conferencing July, 2020 to August, 2020

  • Pre-hearing reporting and evidence September, 2020

  • Hearing of submissions October, 2020

  • Decision on submissions 2020 to 2021

  • Council makes decision on recommendation 13 April, 2021 to 13 April, 2021

    Recommendation received from Hearing Panel provided to Regional Council for them to make a decision whether to adopt.

  • Publicly notify decision 21 April, 2021

  • Appeals period to Environment Court 2021 to 2024

  • Plan change made operative

Background - Nutrient Management in the One Plan

The policies and rules in the One Plan manage nutrient leaching to water by intensive farming land uses.

When excess nutrients make their way into surface and groundwater, they can boost algal growth and affect water quality and life supporting capacity of freshwater and aquatic environments. The plan limits the amount of nitrogen that can be leached by intensive farming land uses by setting cumulative nitrogen leaching maximums. The maximums apply to existing farms in target catchments where there is poor water quality and farming is a significant land use across the catchment, and to new farms (conversions) anywhere in the region. 

Cumulative nitrogen leaching maximums were developed using the Overseer modelling software, allocating leaching limits according to the productive potential of the land – known as the ‘natural capital’ approach. The Regional Policy Statement policy directs that these limits must be “achievable on most farms using good management practice.”

It was intended that intensive farming land uses that could meet the cumulative nitrogen leaching maximums in Table 14.2 of the plan would be able to obtain consent as a ‘Controlled’ activity, which must be granted. Those intensive farming land uses that could not meet the maximums would be able to seek a consent as a ‘Restricted Discretionary’ activity, which could be declined.

Why was Plan Change 2 Needed?

In practice, the One Plan provisions to manage nutrient leaching are no longer working as intended, as the result of two external factors that have arisen since the One Plan became operative:

  • There have been ongoing changes in the Overseer model. This means that farm systems that could have met the cumulative nitrogen leaching maximums in Table 14.2 of the One Plan, using the Overseer version that was used to originally develop them, no longer do so when modelled in the current version. This is the case even if nothing has changed in the farm’s practice in real terms.
  • Changes in case law require the provisions to be applied in a way that may not have been anticipated when the One Plan was prepared. Directive policies to achieve or not exceed the cumulative nitrogen leaching maximums now make it very difficult to grant consent in circumstances where the limits are not met, even though the rules are written to provide for this to be considered.
As a result, very few existing intensive farming land uses can meet the cumulative nitrogen leaching maximums in Table 14.2. It is almost impossible for those that do not to be granted resource consent, even if the land use has not substantially changed since the One Plan became operative.

There are an estimated 118 existing unconsented dairy farms in target catchments in the Region, and around 60 commercial vegetable growers in the Horowhenua targeted catchments.  These activities are effectively not regulated at present, delaying environmental improvements.

The uncertainty of this situation for intensive farming land use farmers is having considerable social and economic effects.

Strict enforcement of the operative provisions would have even greater social economic effects, with potentially serious consequences for intensive farming businesses in the Manawatū-Whanganui Region.