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Freshwater farm plans

Freshwater farm plans

Roll out by regions starting 1 August

Freshwater farm plans are part of the Essential Freshwater package introduced in 2020. Its purpose is to:

  • Stop further degradation of New Zealand’s freshwater resources and improve water quality
  • Reverse past damage, and
  • Bring New Zealand’s freshwater resources, waterways and ecosystems to a healthy state within a generation.

To that end[1], freshwater farm plans are now beginning to be required by all farms that have:

  • 20 hectares or more in arable or pastoral use
  • Five hectares or more in horticultural use, or
  • 20 hectares or more in combined use.

Southland and Waikato roll out first

The order sets out[2] which of New Zealand’s regions must have their plans underway.

The first regions to prepare their plans from 1 August 2023 are Southland and Waikato. The remaining regions must start the process at various times up to 1 July 2025. Due to the effects of Cyclones Hale and Gabrielle earlier this year, the timing of the implementation of these plans in Hawke’s Bay and Tairawhiti is yet to be decided.

Within 18 months of the order coming into effect for a particular region, plans must be ‘certified’ by a certifier who will be appointed by the local regional council. Plans must be audited within 12 months of the date of certification, with the timing of further audits dependent on the results of the initial audit.  Auditors will be appointed by the local regional council. Plans must be recertified every five years.

The process

The freshwater farm process requires farm operators to identify on-farm risks to freshwater and to determine actions to manage those risks based on the:

  • Farm’s landscape features and natural environment
  • Farming activities, and
  • Environmental health, and cultural and community values of the local catchment.

The intent of the legislation is to ensure that the on-farm actions are practical and effective in relation to a specific farm, rather than having a one-size-fits-all approach to the issue.

It is the responsibility of the ‘farm operator’ who is the person with ‘ultimate responsibility for the operation of the farm’ to prepare the freshwater plan.

Under Section 217E of the Act, the main duties of the farm operator are to:

  • Prepare a freshwater farm plan in accordance with Part 9A of the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) and Regulations
  • Submit the plan to a certifier for certification
  • Ensure that the farm operates in compliance with the certified freshwater farm plan, and
  • Arrange for the farm to be audited in accordance with Part 9A of the RMA and any regulations for compliance with the certified freshwater farm plan.

Keep the plan current

The farm operator must also keep the certified freshwater farm plan fit for purpose by amending  the plan as necessary to reflect the Act and Regulations.

Section 217F sets out what the freshwater farm plan must contain. Basically, it must:

  • Identify any adverse effects of activities carried out on the farm on freshwater and freshwater ecosystems
  • Specify requirements that are:
  • Appropriate for the purpose of avoiding, remedying, or mitigating the adverse effects of those activities on freshwater and freshwater ecosystems, and
  • Be clear and measurable
  • Demonstrate how any outcomes prescribed in any Regulations are to be achieved
  • Comply with any other requirements in the Regulations, and
  • Comply with section 217L.[3]

There are a variety of templates and guidance tools made available by MPI here and other resources are available to farmers to help them complete their freshwater farm plans.

If you need some help in navigating the freshwater farm plan regime, please don’t hesitate to be in touch. We are here to help.

[1] Under part 9A of the Resource Management Act 1991 and the Resource Management (Application of Part 9A –Freshwater Farm Plans) Registrations 2023.

[2] Resource Management (Application of Part 9A – Freshwater Farm Plans) Order 2023.

[3] Section 217L states that a freshwater farm plan may contain a requirement that relates to an activity on the farm that is subject to a ‘specified instrument’ (a resource consent, conservation order or similar requirement). This section is intended to ensure that compliance with the freshwater plan does not supersede any obligation to comply with any such specified instruments.



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