An increase in political action has provided policy and regulatory framework to remedy the declining water quality throughout New Zealand.
It has been well documented that poor farming practises over the years have led to a loss of nutrients in the soil and pollution of the waterways, and that it is no longer acceptable.
Not surprisingly the Waikato Regional Council, which has the one of the largest rivers in the country flowing through its region, is proactive in wanting to provide policy and regulations for healthy rivers. Recently the New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association (NZTBA) was part of the hearing process when defining this policy. The finding from this hearing will see major rule change and compliance on agricultural farming including equine farming in the region.
The NZTBA believes that what is happening in the Waikato region is bound to happen in other areas throughout New Zealand where rivers flow, and from this hearing process hope to develop a blueprint for members’ farms in other regions.
In 2017 the Waikato Regional Council (WRC), began the process of forming the policy dubbed “Plan Change 1- Waikato and Waipa Catchments” and later that year it came to the attention of the NZTBA that the WRC were treating horses in the same category as sheep and cattle, which would mean that there would be unfair increased costs to breeders for ongoing compliance.
They were using an Agricultural software product known as Overseer that enables farmers and growers to improve nutrient use on farms, delivering better environmental outcomes and better farm profitability. It is the only tool available to land managers in New Zealand capable of estimating long-term average nutrient losses from farms, and it is used by some Regional Councils to support an effects-based approach to managing fresh water as part of the government’s National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management.
Overseer assumes that horses are equivalent to ruminant animals when estimating nutrient losses, but as a mono-gastric hind gut ferment horses utilise nutrients differently. As it stands the Plan Change 1 had no consideration of the potential impacts on equine properties and their livelihoods.
After undertaking some research on the subject, the NZTBA then employed the services of Sally Linton, a specialist environmental consultant working primarily in the rural sector on resource management and policy for central and local government.
“Sally Linton has helped us to understand the processes involved and the potential impact on our livelihoods if we were not as an industry involved in the process at the initial hearing stage,” NZTBA CEO Justine Sclater said.
“There had been no consideration of the potential impacts on equine properties as there is a significant difference between our farming practices and other primary industries such as dairying. As an industry we are trying to raise an athlete therefore it is a different mechanism to raising a food producing animal.
“In general, equine farms are usually compliant as they are well planted with trees and all waterways are fenced off, any obstacles that present hazards are fenced to lessen the risk of any potential injury. Horses are often housed indoors during wet and cold periods and our fertilizer inputs are different to other grazing farms.”
The farming methods used by equine people usually demonstrate Good Management Plans (GMP).
Over the past 18 months the NZTBA has continued conversations with other sectors groups within the Equine industry and along with several breeders and Sally Linton, have met with the WRC to state their case for a workable outcome for the industry and the WRC.
Throughout the consultation process, the WRC were accommodating and keen to ensure the policy and bylaws introduced are compatible to all parties.
In late 2018 the NZTBA filed a substantial submission representing the entire equine industry. More recently, along with several breeders domiciled in the WRC and relevant scientific specialists, the NZTBA verbally presented at the submission hearing.
“We felt we were received favourably by the panel as we were organised and professional with our presentation, providing a thorough and good understanding of our practices,” said Sclater.
“The outcome of the hearing will not be advised until at least March next year and the best-case scenario is we will have 10 years to bring ourselves up to speed and show that we are compliant.
“In the meantime, we will continue to work closely with the WRC on this matter.
“Sooner or later Freshwater Management is going to affect properties with horses all over the country and we have put a lot of time and resources in ensuring we have the best advice possible to provide for our members and those in the equine industry.”
From all this research and consultation, the NZTBA hope to develop a manual on good environment stewardship which will be available on their website. This will be updated as necessary and continually promoted through their digital publications.
Going forward it is intended to hold a field day at a leading stud farm property in the Waikato that promotes GMP, as well as hosting educational seminars nationwide.
It is intended that the Equine Research Foundation, where the NZTBA has representation, will also become involved in projects that assist the equine industry in leaving a minimal environmental footprint. -Michelle Saba, NZTBA