Water report bleak reading

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An economic impact report looking at the implications of new land and water legislation on farming in Mid Canterbury doesn’t make pretty reading.

The report, commissioned by Ashburton District Council, uses modelling and farm system analysis to look at the changes that will need to occur to achieve a future freshwater soluble nitrate level of 2.4mg per litre.

Results from the report show the district’s gross domestic product will decline by $409 million or 23% and that there could be the loss of 1735 jobs.

Farm profitability would be reduced by 62% and land values would go down to $25,306 per hectare or $7.4 billion district wide.

Council’s agricultural portfolio adviser Richard Fitzgerald, who wrote the report, said the implications of achieving 2.4mg were not well understood at a farm level or on the impact to the district’s economy.

There were still a number of unknowns, and the bold targets set by government would present many challenges.

Mr Fitzgerald said report analysis had looked at three mitigation interventions; on-farm nutrient loss, ground water supplementation, and land use change.

Forestry had been chosen for land use change because it was a low nitrate crop known to the Canterbury plains.

The interventions would result in a reduction of dairy farming and dairy support land use by over 50 per cent from current levels.

By applying the interventions, the freshwater nitrate levels would shift from the weighted average starting point of 11.5mg to 6.3mg, and would drop further to 2.4mg when the managed aquifer recharge scheme and land use changes were included.

There was no timeframe for the legislation, but it was likely to be over the next 30 to 40 years, he said.

Ashburton District mayor Neil Brown said the report was never going to be pretty reading.

A similar report late last year had shown the dire economic impact of having to reach a target of 6.9mg.

Council had asked for the current report and it was a worst case scenario.

“The 2.4mg of nitrate target is not going to go away and we need to try and achieve it.

“We need science and we need time to achieve it, but the report shows us what will happen if we do nothing today.”

The intention of council is to refer the report to the Canterbury Mayoral Forum and other relevant stakeholders, for consideration and comment.

Councillor Stuart Wilson was less than impressed with the report.

He asked if council was now going to go out and “tell farmers how to suck eggs”.

Council was being presumptuous with the report.

“We should be going out and lobbying Environment Canterbury (ECan) because they hold the reins to what’s going to happen in the future, not the local accountants or the local farmers.

“I don’t want to see ratepayers money used in the wrong way.”

Mr Brown said he believed the workings in the report and any other reports could be used by ECan when it came time to writing the regional plan.

-By Mick Jensen