Southern farmers should be considering consent applications for Intensive Winter Grazing 2023 in the months ahead – which now include natural gullies and swales lying between hills – to mitigate any potential waterway pollution.
The Otago Regional Council’s annual flyover programme to detect any waterway pollution also begins this month.
Otago farmers need to be aware of several changes relating to national regulations for winter grazing for the 2023 season, and beyond, says ORCs General Manager Regulatory and Communications Richard Saunders.
The updated national regulations now come into effect on 1 November 2022 and do not impact the 2022 winter grazing season.
Mr Saunders says the regulations in the Government’s NES-FW (National Environmental Standards for Freshwater) mean that by 1 May 2023, if farmers can’t meet the permitted criteria, they should have a consent.
Key changes – Critical Source Areas
There have been several key changes to the regulations about Intensive Winter Grazing, which reflects the consultation process undertaken, Mr Saunders says.
The addition of Critical Source Areas (such as gullies and swales) in the regulations means farmers need to be thinking about how these areas will be managed.
“This means that these areas should be left ungrazed unless consent is sought,” Mr Saunders says.
There are several other ways to protect CSAs, by avoiding cultivating them and not grazing them, leaving adjacent grass buffers intact or by fencing off steep parts of CSAs.
Farmers could also look at installing multiple small sediment traps, ensure subsurface drains are not feeding into the area and consider planting natives such as toitoi, flax or carex.
The earlier resowing requirement has been removed from the regulations, with this now changed to establishing ground cover “as soon as practicable” after grazing, Mr Saunders says.
He says farmers need to check the slopes of land they are thinking of grazing and consider what risks there are to manage.
“The slope of any land, under an annual forage crop that is used for intensive winter grazing, must be 10 degrees or less, determined by measuring the slope over any 20 metre distance of the land,” he says.
He also notes the removal of conditions around pugging, with this now changed to taking “all reasonably practicable steps” to minimise the effects of pugging, on nearby freshwater sources.
Winter flyovers resuming this month
For winter 2022 it is important that farmers have a grazing management plan in place and look to actively manage their grazing activity.
Winter grazing for the 2022 season is managed under the rules in the Regional Water Plan, but most people will not need consent under this plan due to existing use rights.
The first round of the 2022 winter flyovers, to assess any environmental risks posed to waterways, begins later this month, says Mr Saunders.
“The ORC undertakes flights every year to gain a bird’s eye view on land use in the region to identify any potential risks to water quality,” he says.
There will be three sets of flyovers this season, covering North Otago, Southwest Otago and Central Otago, beginning in late May, then late-June-early-July and in August. All flights are weather dependent.
“A number of high-risk sites were identified last season and were followed up with farm visits to “ground truth” the aerial observations,” Mr Saunders says.
“Overall, our compliance activity in 2021 showed that farmers had taken positive steps to plan and undertake winter grazing activities,” he says.
“This season we’ll be taking note of any high-risk sites and will be visiting the area to inspect issues on the ground.”
If there was found to be any non-compliance issues, Mr Saunders says the ORC response could range from offering education and advice to the farmers, through to enforcement notices or prosecution.
He encourages anybody with questions about IWG rules to contact the Council as soon as possible to discuss them.
Protecting rivers and streams
Mr Saunders says its crucial rural practices are undertaken with consideration for the environment.
“Good management practices, like leaving a buffer zone between stock and waterways, and putting in sediment traps for forestry, are some of the more important tools for preventing sediment loss and for protecting rivers and streams,” Mr Saunders says.
He also highlighted activities around wetlands and urged farmers to ask ORC about the rules surrounding those activities and practices.
Consent assistance for Farmers
Farmers should be considering consent applications for Intensive Winter Grazing 2023 in the second half of this year and the teams at ORC will be ready to process applications when they come in, he says.
“We commend people for being organised for winter 2023. We know that farmers are organised and typically plan their wintering cycles several years in advance and will be planting their crops in spring 2022 for use in winter 2023,” he says.
The consent is not needed for the planting, but rather the grazing.
Online resources and factsheets are being updated and will be available during the coming months.
“ORC is working with other Regional Councils and will work with industry groups to ensure any guidance and materials are consistent and practical.”
Mr Saunders says the ORC consents team need to process the application within 20 working days of it being lodged, if they have all the information they need.
“We know people will want them faster than this so we will focus on being as time responsive as possible,” he says.
ORC’s consent public enquiries team can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org for regulation information, and for best practice advice for winter 2022, contact catchment advisors on email@example.com.
ORC staff from across the organisation are attending field days and catchment group meetings for IWG for this winter, to discuss best practices.
“Staff are more than happy to attend workshops and do one-on-one farm visits,” he says.
During the next two months the ORC will look to provide more support and information about winter 2023.
Recap on slopes, pugging and sub-surface drains
Mr Saunders highlights that for paddock slope, it is the maximum slope for any area used for intensive winter grazing, and not the mean slope across a paddock.
Ground pugging is a risk for all grazing activities and Mr Saunders encourages farmers to think about how to manage this.
“We know that bad weather and bad seasons happen, but people should look to have a plan to minimise pugging.”
Also, sub-surface drains are now excluded from the definition of drains and the winter grazing regulations, so stock do not need to be kept 5 metres away from these.
“However, we encourage careful management of grazing around subsurface drains as these still pose a risk of transporting sediment to waterways, if activities are not properly managed,” Mr Saunders says.