LIC | Environmental Update for Canterbury Dairy Farmers

Environmental Update for Canterbury Dairy Farmers

For those in the Canterbury Region there is a need for baselines & robust Overseer® models to be done soon.

The rules in the Land & Water Regional Plan will begin to impact significantly soon, with those in Red Zone (if not part of an irrigation scheme) with a nutrient discharge load now needing to apply for Resource consent if losses are above 20 kg N/ha, whilst those in Green Zones apply if losses are over 20 kg N/ha & any planned activities will result in an increase of more than 5 kg N/ha. 

Those in Orange Zones are being required to apply for land use consent by June 2016 if they are not part of an irrigation scheme with a nutrient discharge load, & Overseer modelling losses of more than 20 kg N/ha, unless less than 50 ha.  Below are some questions and answers from an ECAN LWRP flyer. 

What applies to farms in nutrient red zones? 

Within a red zone there can be no increase in nitrogen leaching beyond the leaching baseline. Farms with medium nitrogen leaching rates in the red zone (less than 20kg/ha/yr) can continue to operate as a permitted activity.  Farms with higher leaching losses (more than 20kg/ha/yr), can continue to operate until 1 January 2017, but after this date a resource consent is required and a completed Farm Environment Plan is an essential component of any application for consent. 

What does the plan require of farmers in an orange zone? 

In the orange zone, small increases in nitrogen leaching (increases <5kg/ha/yr) are permitted until 1 January 2016. After this date, farms which continue to limit their leaching losses to 20kg/ha/yr will continue to be permitted activities, while farms with higher leaching  losses (>20kg/ha/yr) will require a resource consent if the farm is larger than 50ha, or if the nitrogen leaching losses increase. A completed Farm Environment Plan is an essential component of any application for consent.

What does the plan require of farmers in a green/light blue zone? 

In the green/light blue zone, farms with medium nitrogen leaching rates (less than 20kg/ha/yr) can continue to farm as a permitted activity, provided information about the farm (for example stocking rates, irrigation management, yield, effluent management) and nutrient budgets are kept. For farms with higher nitrogen leaching losses (>20kg/ha/yr)  a resource consent is required if nitrogen leaching losses increase by more than 5kg/ha/yr. A completed Farm Environment Plan is an essential component of any application for consent. 

These rules mean that baselines need to be prepared for most farms based on nutrient budgets for the seasons since the baseline for the period 2009-2013 (even if under an irrigation scheme discharge consent, it is still prudent to have a baseline undertaken).We anticipate that irrigation schemes will require nutrient budgets to be supplied by suitably qualified consultants.

For those outside of irrigation schemes with a nutrient discharge load, if the Nutrient budgets indicate consent is required, a Farm Environment Plan & resource consent application will need to be done by June 2016 for Orange zones & June 2017 for Red zones.

A consent may be required as per conditions based on your zone.

Farm Environment Plans 

There is a considerable amount of work being undertaken in the Dairy industry on farm environment plans (FEPs) for a number of reasons. These plans will be useful for farmers to determine where they are, what actions they can take (or may need to take in relation to compliance) and what commitments they wish to make regarding  environmental management on their property. From an industry level the summary information can be used for reporting, and demonstrating that audited self management is working.

FEPs can be a tool for farmers to plan & demonstrate what is happening on their property, however they may also be used to monitor farmers & for industry/regional councils to enforce improved environmental management. 

For most farmers this is an opportunity to demonstrate their good environmental management, what actions they can take to improve and put a plan in place to carry out improvements over time. Going forward, there will be data collected so that farmers can report on progress they have made.
Canterbury Regional Council is taking an approach where farming groups can use audited self management and FEPs to plan, report & comply with the goals & rules of the Canterbury Regional Council. Other councils around the country are taking different approaches. 

In Canterbury, it is estimated that between 3,000-4,000 FEPs will be required by 2017 to meet the Canterbury Regional Council rules. These farmers will have to demonstrate that they are adhering to the FEPs. This is expected to involve an audit of all these plans, with those failing audits likely to have an increased level of auditing until they attain the required standard.  Frequency of ongoing auditing is expected to be determined by the “grade” the auditor gives to the farm.

Preparation of an FEP involves gathering data on the current situation on farm and identifying environmental risks & actions which are being, or practically can be done to mitigate these. 

Information such as nutrient budgets, fertiliser management plans, land & soil management, stock & shed water management, irrigation design, management & efficiency, effluent system design & management, riparian management, environmental hotspots all need to be assessed  and included in the FEP.

An example of a section within an FEP describing existing good management practises and agreed actions is below:

Land & Soil Management

Good Management Practices

  • Grazing during periods of high rainfall soils is minimised on the poor draining soils on the southern end of the farm to minimise pugging damage. Evidence: Site visit, questioning.
  • Where paddocks are suitable minimum tillage practices are undertaken to reduce risk of soil loss through water or wind erosion. Evidence: Site visit, questioning.
  • Laneway surfaces are maintained to minimise water ponding on or near the lane. Laneways are shaped so run-off water is directed through pasture or vegetation. Evidence: Site visit.
  • Paddocks selected for winter forage cropping are low risk to surface water ponding and have sufficient vegetative filter strips between any adjacent waterways. Evidence: site visit, risk map.


  • Review the grazing management of forage crops and paddock set up (i.e. gateways and stock water) ensure grazing minimises time in the critical source areas of the paddock. Date: before next winter grazing period, Evidence: map, site visit, questioning.
  • Identify and map (if required) any culturally sensitive areas (Wahi tapu sites) Date: within 12 months, Evidence: map.

Rural professionals are having to upskill in environmental management so that they can assist farmers. The Massey University nutrient management courses (intermediate & advanced) are running at full capacity, as the industry strives to become upskilled in this area.

Your local Farmwise® consultant is able to assist in preparation of FEPs, prepare baseline & all Nutrient budgeting & related farm system work, & prepare or assist in the land use consent process.


  • Red Zone: No increase above your Nitrogen Baseline*, Farm Environment plan and resource constant by June 2017 if loss is ≥20kgN/ha/yr.
  • Orange Zone: Nitrogen loss ≥5kgN/ha/year above Nitrogen Baseline*,Farm Environment plan and resource constant by June 2016 if loss ≥20kgN/ha/yr and property ≥50ha.
  • Green Zone: Nitrogen loss can increase by 5kgN/ha/year above Nitrogen Baseline additional increases require resource constant.

*It is critical that your Nutrient Baseline data is compiled by a certified person.

If you require a Nutrient budgeting for Baseline information, farm environmental plans, system changes modelling or help with consenting contact your farm consultant or speak with your local FarmWise® team.   


Site Map