Meat & Livestock News

Legal Uncertainty for Canterbury Plains Irrigators

TL;DR: High Court ruling questions future discharge consents in Canterbury, highlighting the need for RMA reform and creating uncertainty for farmers and regional water management practices.

A High Court ruling has cast doubt on future nitrogen discharge consents in Canterbury.

Colin Hurst, Vice President of Federated Farmers, sees this as a signal for urgent Resource Management Act (RMA) reform. The decision to reevaluate a consent by Canterbury Regional Council has frustrated many. “It’s a setback,” Hurst stated, criticising the disruption to a practical approach for reducing contaminants.

Farmers now face significant uncertainty, impacting their operations.

Ashburton Lyndhurst Irrigation Ltd, supporting 228 farmers over 32,000ha, is directly affected. Granted a nutrient discharge consent in 2014, and renewed in 2021 to include more farms, its future is now unclear following a judicial review initiated by the Environmental Law Initiative.

The consent aimed for a substantial nitrogen reduction within a decade, mandating environmental best practices and rigorous monitoring.

Hurst argues the case underscores a divide in RMA interpretation. The council’s approach—granting consent based on eventual water quality improvements—clashed with the group’s strict stance on discharge consents.

The judgement favoured the Environmental Law Initiative, highlighting a disconnect in managing nitrogen impacts under the RMA.

Furthermore, the judge pointed out an oversight regarding coastal policy considerations, even though the affected area isn’t coastal. The ruling has disappointed local farmers, says Rebecca Whillans, CEO of the irrigation scheme, noting their longstanding commitment to environmental planning.

While the scheme operates under the 2021 consent during review, the decision’s implications are wide, affecting not just Canterbury but potentially other regions.

“This case may influence future RMA interpretations, unsettling for farmers relying on the consent through 2030,” Hurst concluded, advocating for consideration in upcoming RMA reforms.