Freshwater farm plans

Farm plans have been used as a means for managing farm practices and the effects of farming for decades, particularly for erosion management purposes. More recently farm plans have been required in some  regional plans (for example in Canterbury and the Hawkes Bay).   In 2020 their role in the freshwater management framework was formalized at a national level through a new Part 9A of the RMA. The purpose of Part 9A is to better control the adverse effects of farming on freshwater and freshwater ecosystems through the use of certified farm plans. 5209

Regulations will be developed setting out further detail on the requirements for freshwater farm plans. Roll out of freshwater farm plans will then be phased in.

As at the start of 2021, no regulations have been promulgated.  However, MFE’s website indicates that regulations are being worked on. 5210 The scope of these regulations is board with them above to cover types of crop, land use, plan content, aspects of the certification process, processes for amendment and recertification, timeframes, and similar. 5211

In terms of the baseline, statutory requirements in Part 9A, when freshwater farm plan provisions apply to an area, then the following types of farms are required to have a freshwater farm plan certified under the specified process:

  • A farm with 20 or more hectares in arable land use (being the growing of specific crops for harvest such as grain cereal or maize)
  • A farm with 5 or more hectares in horticultural land use (being growing food or beverage crops for human consumption other than arable crops) or flowers growing for commercial supply
  • A farm with 20 or more hectares in pastoral land use (being grazing of livestock)
  • A farm with 20 or more hectares made up of a combination of these uses
  • Any farm specified as being subject to a requirement for a farm plan in regulations

The Farm Operator 5212  is responsible for ensuring that a freshwater farm plan is prepared, certified, kept up to date and followed, and audited. 5213  

Importantly, compliance with a certified freshwater farm plan does not itself authorize the undertaking of any activity.  If a farming activity is subject to a restriction in a designation, national environmental standard, national planning standard, regulations made under Part 14, resource consent, rule in a plan, or water conservation order, then it must either comply with that restriction or a resource consent must be sought to undertake the activity. 5214   The NESF already includes the holding of a certified freshwater farm plan as a permitted activity condition for some higher risk farming activities – see here.

Under the RMA (noting that additional content requirements may be introduced by regulation) freshwater farm plans 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

-          clear and measurable

-          needed to demonstrate how outcomes required under regulations are achieved or how requirements in regulations are complied with

Because of the requirement of a farming activity to also comply with restrictions in national environmental standards, plans and similar, it would also logically incorporate any controls imposed via these means in its suite of management practices. 

Once a freshwater farm plan is prepared the Farm Operator must submit it to a certifier who can certify the plan if they are satisfied it complies with the content requirements just outlined.  The certifier is then responsible for advising the regional council that the plan has been certified and on what date. 5215 Certifiers are appointed by the regional council on the basis of criteria, which is intended to be set in the regulations. 5216

Once a Freshwater Farm Plan is certified a Farm Operator must ensure the farm is operated in accordance with it.  To ensure this is happening the Farm Operator must organize for an auditor appointed by the regional council 5217   to audit farm compliance.  The auditor must provide the compliance report to the regional council. 5219

Regional councils are responsible for enforcing compliance with freshwater farm plans (although the EPA could also do so if it decided to do so 5220 ) and for keeping records of whether farm are certified, certification and audit dates, and any other information required by regulations. 5221   Regional councils are able to fix charges for the purposes of carrying out these functions. 5222

  1. s 217A RMA.

  2. Sections 217D RMA and 217B RMA.

  3. S 217M RMA.

  4. S 217E RMA.

  5. Defined as the person with ultimate responsibility for the operation of the farm.

  6. S 217E RMA.

  7. S 217L RMA.

  8. S217G RMA.

  9. S 217K RMA.

  10. S 217H RMA.

  11. Sections 42C and 343F RMA.

  12. S 217J RMA.

  13. S 36(1)(cd) RMA.

Last updated at 9:17AM on August 24, 2021