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Waikato farmer welcomes delay on catchment decisions

Waikato farmer welcomes delay on catchment decisions

Hearings on Waikato Regional Plan Change 1 (PC1), which sets out a framework for restoring and protecting the Waikato and Waipa rivers, are due to take place later this year but final decisions are not now expected until August 2020.

Waikato dairy farmer Andrew McGiven, who is president of Waikato Federated Farmers, says the extended timeframe for final decisions on PC1 is positive from an agricultural perspective, because it will allow for more evidence and information to be presented on issues affecting the catchment.

“For example, we don’t think nitrogen is the big driver (of contamination), as it was first thought to be,” Andrew says.

“Rather, the big drivers here are E. coli, sediment and phosphorus. There are small parts of the catchment where nitrogen may be an issue but that is not the case if you look at our overall river readings.”

Federated Farmers is advocating for a sub-catchment approach to provide a nuanced framework for environmental management that would better reflect the region’s diverse topography and soil types.

“We feel that would be a more effective way to start addressing the real critical source contaminants coming though. You’ve got to find out what these are before you start addressing them. One of the big issues not being addressed is koi carp: these are a huge source of sediments and phosphorus in the river. They chew through something like 18 times their body weight every day in mud and are eating the banks out.”

Waikato Federated Farmers’ submission addresses PC1 along with a variation that reinstated an area in the north-east of the Waikato River catchment that was withdrawn in November 2016 to enable full consultation with Pare Hauraki as an impacted iwi.

Federated Farmers has been meeting with other groups in the local agricultural sector to seek a broad consensus on the planned changes.

Local farmers and the Waikato Farmers Trust are contributing to the costs associated with Federated Farmers’ presenting at hearings later this year.

In his role with Federated Farmers, Andrew is also keeping a close eye on Mycoplasma Bovis, first detected in the region in May. There are now two infected properties and several others under restriction notices.

“While MPI haven’t got everything right, we’d like to think the response to this pathogen is constantly improving. I’m shortly meeting with one of the MPI people to discuss how MPI can reach out past the Rural Support Trust to help farms even more.”

Through the Civil Defence Emergency Management cluster, the Waikato and South Auckland group is also assisting MPI with building better access to local contacts that could help assist affected farmers.

“I personally think the crunch point will be this spring. If a lot of new cases pop up where they were not expected, then there will need to be some serious discussions on whether it’s best to continue with the eradication strategy or look at managing it instead.”

Andrew and his wife Jenny, a qualified vet, have a milking platform of 140ha in the Te Aroha area, with an additional 42ha used as an in-house grazing block.

“Fortunately, we’re self-contained for grazing and can close our boundaries … In terms of production we’re looking at 240,000kgMS to 245,000kgMS for the year. We’re happy with that, after being down a bit last year because of the wet winter.”

On farm, the couple are always looking at news ways to improve pasture growth and lower potential impacts on waterways.

“One of the new things we’re exploring is dung beetles. These can really improve the topsoil layer over time by pulling organic matter into the ground. As well, if dung is being pulled down into the ground then it can’t overflow into waterways so there’s that potential to cut down E. coli along with parasites. The need to drench is then lessened too.”

Along with his Federated Farmers role, Andrew is busy as chair of a patient participation group seeking to better integrate patients’ needs through Health Te Aroha.

He is also involved with a business venture called New Zealand Fulvic, which is currently negotiating a joint venture with an international pharmaceutical company.

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