Farmers leading the way on dealing with environmental issues

Farmers have a lot to contend with, much more than the average townie can understand, in dealing with emissions, nutrient leaching and environmental risks.

Steve LowndesOver the past few years, the new rules and requirements to do things differently have been coming thick and fast, from central and local government, from the community as well as from farming leaders.

I acknowledge that we, as a regional council, have been at the forefront of bringing in new rules, new plans, raising the bar for environmental management, as well as getting tougher on consents and compliance, all of which impacts on farmers.

We do this in response to societal demands to improve freshwater quality, as well as doing what we need to do under the law as mandated by central government (we must not let freshwater quality decline, we must maintain, or if possible improve water quality).

At times there is a blame game - people in the rural space point at urbanites and ask what about them, what are they doing? That’s understandable, however, at the same time urban people don’t give farmers credit for the work going on to protect and improve the environment.

We also recognise that some of the loudest voices calling for environmental improvement actually come from the rural sector. Farming families know the reality and have the best knowledge of what can be done to make a difference.
Farmers and the agri-industry have, by and large, responded very positively to the requirements to limit nutrient leaching and improve environmental performance. We are already starting to see improvements in freshwater quality trends over the past five and 10 years.

It’s clear, however, that many urban people don’t really understand what farmers are being asked to do, or how they have responded. Many also do not understand the changes that will be needed in our towns and cities to deal with emissions from transport and home heating, stormwater and wastewater pollution, as well as urban sprawl and lifestyle blocks. But the need to deal with these issues – as well as adapt to the growing effects of climate change – are looming large.

Most of our stormwater networks discharge dirty water directly to urban streams and rivers. Because of the intense effects of urbanisation, the two most polluted rivers in Canterbury are in Christchurch, the Avon/Ōtākaro and the Heathcote/Ōpāwaho.

Inappropriate materials, such as oils and chemicals, being discharged into our urban stormwater system have the equivalent environmental significance as nutrient leaching from farms, which is why setting, and enforcing, limits matters right across our region.

These are very significant issues and will require ongoing change. The cost of cleaning up our cities is huge – we built the infrastructure of stormwater and wastewater networks in the 19th and 20th centuries when the environment was not front of mind.

In addition, people will have to adapt to climate change which may include dealing with more frequent storms, coastal flooding, and rising water tables.

My final message is that while a huge amount is being asked of farmers, there are very significant changes and costs also heading for our urban communities.