By Susan Murray of RNZ.
Intensive winter grazing practices have improved but more effort needs to go into compliance and monitoring activities by regional councils, a new report has found.
When Environment Minister David Parker delayed new regulations to control the controversial practice of intensive winter grazing earlier this year, he ordered regional councils to provide quarterly updates on what was being done to improve practices.
The first report was presented to the minister this week.
It said overall there has been strong collaboration across regional councils and primary sector organisations to provide education, support and tools for farmers.
This has resulted in a significant uptake of intensive winter grazing planning and good management practice, it said.
But the report also showed seven regional councils including Taranaki and Horizons don’t have estimates on how many farms in their regions use winter grazing.
In the three months to June, four of 14 regional councils conducted aerial fly-overs. Five councils undertook winter grazing site visits.
The report noted aerial and on-ground monitoring by Regional Councils is planned between 1 July and 30 September.
The Southland Regional Council received 16 complaints about winter grazing, one of which is under investigation.
Tasman District Council is the only other council to get a complaint – just one. The council has six under investigation and has issued one formal warning.
A hotline set up for people to call if they see bad intensive winter grazing practices resulted in 14 investigations in the six months to June.
Twelve in Southland, one on the West Coast and one in Otago – nine were resolved with seven of those no having no issue found and two requiring minor action resolved on site.
Four remain under investigation and one was unable to be found as not enough information was provided in order to locate the property concerned.
Work is underway to improve farming practices and Fonterra has been contacting farmers doing intensive winter grazing in Southland.
Of 103 phone interviews with farmers, 62 per cent had an intensive winter grazing plan in place or were in the process of completing one.
Parker said the information in the report is incomplete but far better than the information he’s received in the past.
“It’s notable to me that the more detailed information that we’re starting to get is concentrated in areas that we have the greatest problem.
“Obviously, the further that you go south, the colder it is in winter, and the less able you are to grow grass all year round. And therefore, there’s a greater reliance on alternative feed sources, including intensive winter grazing of fodder crops.”
The information that we’re starting to get from Southland, Otago and Canterbury shows that there is a coming together of regional councils, farm leadership groups, all acknowledging that there is a problem to be solved and trying to do better, Parker said.
He said it’s pleasing to see regional councils and farmers in the South Island making good on the promise they made earlier this year to improve intensive winter grazing.
“There are two issues at a higher level, the quality of the intensive winter grazing that we have, and the quantity of it. And we’re starting to get a handle on both of those issues.
“There’s no doubt that we need to have a form of enforceable obligation on farmers to have responsible intensive winter grazing practices, whether that’s done through farm plans that are enforceable by regional councils or a other rules under a national environment standard.”
He said enforceable regulations around intensive winter grazing are still on track to be in place by May next year.