Say “Goodbye” to the Nitrogen Reference Point

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Published on 23/10/2020
March 2020 saw most New Zealanders locked down by a global pandemic, but the rural industry was still very much “business as usual”.  During the lockdown period, there were some big changes to the Healthy Rivers Proposed Plan Change 1 (“PC1”), but one overarching factor was left the same.  Farm environment plans are the key to reducing discharge of contaminants into our New Zealand waterways.

PC1, which effects the Waikato Region, has said goodbye to the Nitrogen Reference Point, a system that was encouraging farms to try for the highest possible nitrogen allowance for their farms.  Instead, the Nitrogen Leaching Loss Rate (“NLLR”) provides hope that the focus will shift to knowledge of how much your farm is leeching into nearby waterways, and showing the Waikato Regional Council how you will assist in the mitigation of leeching.

You will need records of the following information to calculate your NLLR and determine whether you have a low, moderate, or high nitrogen-leeching farm:
  • Stock type and numbers
  • Milk supply receipts
  • Supplementary feed
  • Fertiliser records
  • Water use records for irrigation
  • Crops grown and harvested
  • Soil test data

Be sure to keep your records handy!  They will need to be submitted, alongside your NLLR, when it comes time to submit your environmental plan.

So, what is the good news for you?  If you are identified as a low nitrogen-leeching farm, you can operate under a permitted activity.  No resource consent will be required.  The following table identifies the maximum NLLR you can have in your area, to be considered a low nitrogen-leeching farm and avoid the need for a resource consent:
A controlled activity consent will be needed for moderate-leeching farms, and discretionary consent for high nitrogen-leeching farms, with level limits as follows:

If you are close to having a low nitrogen-leeching farm, you should consider how you can reduce your leeching level so that you can avoid the need for a resource consent from the council.

More good news?  You’re no longer limited to the higher of the 2014/2015 or 2015/2016 seasons.  You can calculate your NLLR based on your farming records for any one of the years between 2015/2016 to 2019/2020, or the most recent farming year.  This gives you discretion to select the seasonal information you find most beneficial to you.

It’s expected that another 2 or 3 years will pass before PC1 is brought before the Environmental Court.  Therefore, you won’t need to submit your environmental plan and NLLR for a few years yet.  However, it is important to ensure you are taking a forward-thinking approach to your farm management and considering whether you should engage a farm consultant now, in preparation of PC1 coming into effect.

For now, our advice to you is to know the ins and outs of your farm (or prospective farm, if you are looking to purchase) and keep written records. The more information you have, the better!


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