Freshwater Farm Plans

Under new government rules, farms will need a Freshwater Farm Plan. Details of what they’ll contain and when they’re required are to be confirmed by government around mid-2021.

About the requirements

To manage the effects of farming on the health of our waterways, the government has changed the Resource Management Act 1991 to include a requirement that farms have a Freshwater Farm Plan (new Part 9A).

A farm must have a certified Freshwater Farm Plan if:

a)  20 or more hectares of the farm is arable land use; or
b)  5 or more hectares of the farm is horticultural land use; or
c)  20 or more hectares of the farm is pastoral land use; or
d)  20 or more hectares of the farm is a combination of any 2 or more of the land uses described above.

The changes are part of the government's Essential Freshwater package to improve the health of our waterways.

Details yet to be confirmed

The details of what form the Freshwater Farm Plans may take, what they should include and when they will be required has yet to be confirmed by government – we expect to know more by around mid-2021.

You may have heard information from various sources about what will or won’t be included in the new Freshwater Farm Plans. The government has not released final details, so it’s best to wait until that happens before engaging anyone to write a plan for you.

What we do know is that Freshwater Farm Plans will need to set out how the new rules in the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater and Livestock Exclusion Regulations will be met by the farmer.

The Freshwater Farm Plan must be ‘certified’ by qualified certifiers to make sure it is up to standard and will be audited to make sure the actions in the plan are being done. Regional councils will be responsible for making sure any non-compliance identified by auditors is addressed.

Things will continue to develop, and we will keep updating our information as we learn more.

What does it mean for existing farm plans?

This means the Farm Environment Plans (FEPs) that Northland Regional Council has worked with landowners to create will be superseded – so even if you have an FEP from Northland Regional Council, you will still need to have a Freshwater Farm Plan under the new government rules once they take effect.

However, FEPs still provide a good planning tool for improving environmental sustainability for your property.

It also means Northland Regional Council will no longer be providing a farm-plan service, but we will continue to support landowners with good practice advice.

Our focus will now shift to catchments that have the most urgent issues and supporting landowners in those areas. We will also continue to support projects that protect Northland’s environment through our Environment Fund.

What can I do in the meantime?

In the meantime, if you’re keen to get a head start on environmental initiatives, you could:

  • In low-slope areas identified in the stock exclusion regulations, start planning to exclude cattle and deer from rivers more than one metre wide and lakes. Make sure the riparian margin is at least three metres on each side of the top of the bank of rivers wider than one metre and lakes, when the water is running at full flow.
  • Start excluding all cattle, pigs and deer from natural wetlands larger than 500m2 in low-slope areas. These rules apply from 1 July 2025.
  • Start planning to exclude dairy cattle, dairy support cattle, pigs and intensively grazed beef and deer from rivers wider than one metre and lakes regardless of slope.
  • Start budgeting to help finance environmental initiatives that will be required under new regulations.
  • Investigate council funding subsidies for treating erosion-prone land, including retiring pasture and marginal hill country, fencing and planting, and associated soil conservation.
    See: Grants for planting on erosion prone land
  • Investigate options for protecting habitats and areas of significance through covenants (e.g. QEII Trust or conservation covenants with District Councils) that can also qualify for rates relief.
    - QEII National Trust: qeiinationaltrust.org.nz
    - Far North District Council - Conservation Covenants: fndc.govt.nz
    - Whangarei District Council - Conservation Covenants: wdc.govt.nz