Amuri Irrigation environmental strategy gets big tick from Environment Canterbury

Amuri Irrigation Company’s (AIC) Environmental Management Strategy has been given the big tick by Environment Canterbury – the first farm-level environmental management strategy the regional council has approved under its new Hurunui and Waiau River Regional Plan (HWRRP).

Environment Canterbury’s approval means that farmers within the Hurunui and Waiau Zone who sign up, implement and comply with the requirements of AIC’s environmental management strategy will not need to go through the process of obtaining a resource consent for their existing farming enterprises.
David Bedford, Environment Canterbury Commissioner for the Hurunui Waiau Zone, said “I think it is great to see AIC developing their Environmental Management Strategy to this stage, supporting their scheme members and also demonstrating leadership for rural community in the Hurunui Waiau Zone.”
AIC General Manager, Andrew Barton, said the Environmental Management Strategy will move farmers to good management practice (GMP) with a particular focus on high water use efficiency. The strategy will override the current ability under the plan for higher emitters to further increase nutrient loss by 10%.

“Operating to GMP or better will create headroom in the catchment and provide for further irrigation and dryland development,” he said.

The strategy will be made available to all farmers within the Hurunui and Waiau Zone, although the first to sign up to it will be AIC’s shareholding farms.

AIC’s Environmental Project Manager Alastair Rutherford said Environment Canterbury’s approval is timely as AIC can now provide environmental guidance for its shareholders and other farmers in the area needing assistance.

Under the HWRRP, irrigating farmers must sign up to an Environmental Management Strategy and have an individual farm environment plan in place by 2017.

“There’s no time to waste really. Farmers who are not part of a recognised Environmental Management Strategy in two year’s time will need resource consent from Environment Canterbury to carry on farming. By releasing our strategy now, North Canterbury farmers can take the summer to review the strategy and the support we’re offering before deciding next year whether to come under AIC’s umbrella.”

AIC’s Environmental Management Strategy is based on individual farm environment plans modified to meet the HWRRP’s particular water quality objectives. These plans must be completed by experienced consultants in discussion with the farm manager, including visits to inspect and review the farm operation from an environmental perspective.

AIC’s farm environment plan identifies six environmental areas where farms must demonstrate industry best practice at a minimum. Where there is scope for improvement, the plan will identify specific actions to be achieved over a reasonable timeframe in order to meet industry best practice.

The six areas cover:
• Irrigation management;
• Soils management;
• Nutrient management;
• Wetland and Riparian management;
• Collected animal effluent management; and
• Specific environmental hot-spots – such as offal pits.
Once farmers have a plan in place, they will be inspected by a suitably qualified auditor who is independent of the consultant that prepared the plan and is approved by Environment Canterbury. Farms will then be graded A to D depending on the number of actions recorded and the confidence of the auditor that the farm can meet the various environmental objectives specified in the HWRRP.

High scoring farms will be subject to lighter touch regulation; whereas low scoring farms will have targets reviewed and will be subject to further inspection in either six months or one year. Failure to make adequate progress at follow-up inspections could result in the farm having its AIC scheme membership revoked. In this case they may then be required to seek full resource consent from Environment Canterbury in order to continue farming.

The monitoring and auditing of AIC’s environmental strategy will be supported by a range of initiatives to improve farmer understanding of various environmental issues, how to reduce risks and improve the farm’s environmental and economic performance.

AIC’s Environmental Management Strategy is a response to the Hurunui and Waiau River Regional Plan (HWRRP) which became operative last December. The HWRRP applies to land users within the Hurunui and Waiau Water Management Zone with some exceptions (see map on Environment Canterbury’s website - http://ecan.govt.nz/our-responsibilities/regional-plans/hwrrp/Pages/understanding-plan.aspx).

The HWRRP differs from the Canterbury Land and Water Regional Plan and its Farm Environment Plan requirements for farmers and further information on these differences can be found at www.ecan.govt.nz/lwrp-farmers