Intensive winter grazing

Making and following a plan for how you manage intensive winter grazing (IWG) is essential to reducing nutrient and sediment run-off and improving soil productivity.

On 1 November 2022, new rules around winter grazing came into force. Under these rules, Canterbury farmers who can’t meet the Permitted Activity rules will need to apply for resource consent for intensive winter grazing by 1 May 2023.

Councils and industry have worked together to develop further guidance: Intensive Winter Grazing Rules FAQ (PDF, 2.78MB)

Key actions

If you're planning to intensively winter graze stock in 2023, you need to:

  • have an intensive winter grazing management plan, which identifies the environmental risks and on-farm mitigations
  • determine whether you are a Permitted Activity or will need consent
  • continue with paddock selection and planting, but make a plan on how to meet the rules – adjust your practices to meet the Permitted Activity rules, or plan to apply for consent by 1 May 2023

Making an intensive winter grazing management plan

Whether you're doing intensive winter grazing as a Permitted Activity or applying for resource consent, one thing won't change – you'll need a written plan that clearly identifies the environmental risks associated with the activity, and how you plan to manage and mitigate each of these risks.

Your intensive winter grazing plan will be the key reference you follow over the winter months.

Government and industry organisations have developed several IWG management templates and guidance documents you can use to make your plan:

What is intensive winter grazing and how have the rules changed?

Intensive winter grazing is defined as grazing livestock (including sheep) on an annual forage crop at any time in the period that begins on 1 May and ends on 30 September of the same year.

In 2020, the Government introduced the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater (NES-F), which set requirements for carrying out certain activities that pose risks to freshwater and freshwater ecosystems. One of those activities is intensive winter grazing.

The NES-F rules for intensive winter grazing that are coming into force on 1 November 2022 change which activities are considered part of the 'Permitted Activity' rules, and do not require resource consent.

Under the NES-F, farms that don’t meet the Permitted Activity rules will require a certified Freshwater Farm Plan or to have applied for resource consent by 1 May 2023.

However, Freshwater Farm Plans won’t be rolled out in Canterbury in the next few years, so if you can’t meet the Permitted Activity rules, you will need resource consent.

Can I do intensive winter grazing as a Permitted Activity?

A Permitted Activity rule outlines certain conditions that need to be met to operate without consent. If your activity meets all of those conditions, you don’t need council authorisation, and are not required to notify us of the activity.

Use these questions to determine if you can operate under the Permitted Activity rules:

Was there intensive winter grazing carried out on your farm between 1 July 2014 and 30 June 2019?

Is the total area used for IWG for any season no more than the maximum area used between the above dates?

Does the total area of intensive winter grazing on your farm meet the following limits:
a) For a farm 500ha or less, the maximum area of IWG is 50ha?
b) For a farm larger than 500ha, is the maximum area of IWG 10% of the property size?

Is the slope of land under winter crop 10 degrees or less measured over any 20 m distance?

Are all critical source areas within or nearby the winter grazing area protected, ungrazed, uncultivated and unharvested over the winter grazing months?

Are livestock kept at least five metres away from the bed of any river, lake, wetland or drain, regardless of if there is water present at the time?

Will you take all reasonably practicable steps to minimise adverse effects from pugging and ensure vegetation is established as ground cover over the whole area of that land as soon as practicable after grazing?

If you answered No to ANY of these questions, a resource consent will be required for intensive winter grazing on your farm.

If you answered YES to ALL of these questions, then you can practice intensive winter grazing as a Permitted Activity.

How and when do I apply for resource consent?

If you plan to conduct intensive winter grazing in 2023 and can’t meet the Permitted Activity rules, you will need to lodge a resource consent application by 1 May 2023. You are not required to have been granted resource consent, only to have lodged an application by this date.

Unfortunately, existing farming land use consents and irrigation scheme programmes do not cover the requirements for intensive winter grazing under the NES-F. If you are already covered by one of these, then you will still need an IWG consent if you don't meet the permitted activity rules.

While you won't be granted resource consent immediately, you can still continue with planning and planting for next season and grazing in 2023, as long as you're following your management plan and are consistent with what you’ve applied for.

A consent application deposit will cost $3500. The final cost could be more or less, depending on how complicated the consent is to process. You will be billed extra or refunded depending on the final cost.

Download an application form

Download our intensive winter grazing resource consent application form. Using this form will make the application process as simple, efficient and easy as possible.

Use Microsoft Word or a free open-source alternative like Google Docs, OpenOffice or LibreOffice to fill in the form fields. In checkboxes, please enter ‘x’ for the option which applies. If you need general assistance with filling in this form, please contact our advisory team on 0800 324 636.

CON600 - Application for Intensive Winter Grazing (Word, 184KB)

CON600 - Application for Intensive Winter Grazing (PDF, 544KB)

An intensive winter grazing management plan is a key feature of the application and a requirement of the consent going forward.

You can apply for any consent duration, but what is granted will depend on your individual situation. Generally, it will be lined up with an existing farming land use consent or extend until 2029 - five years after the likely notification of a new proposed regional plan.

Our compliance approach

With any new regulation, our first priority is education. For the next year, we will be focusing on supporting farmers to understand the new rules and how they can meet them. There are lots of resources online and staff on the ground to help. 

As intensive winter grazing can be a high risk to the environment, we expect that effects are managed even while you are working towards getting your consent. Existing rules in Canterbury restrict stock access to waterways and discharge to water, so we will continue to follow up any incidents relating to these. Each case will be assessed on its merits and compliance action may be taken where necessary.

In July 2022, we successfully conducted a single flyover in the Waimakariri district, observing how farmers had set up for intensive winter grazing. The activities we noted included strategic grazing towards waterways; fences set back from waterways; buffer zones; water troughs and feeders placed close to new breaks; paddocks with waterways and wetlands not being used for IWG; and smaller mob sizes grazing forage crops. We are evaluating the further use of flyovers for education and compliance.

Good management practices for intensive winter grazing

Here are some ways to protect soil structure and reduce the leaching of nitrogen and phosphorous into waterways on your farm:

  • What's your plan for bad weather? Having practical bad weather mitigations must be part of planning your winter feed management. For example, what will you do to stop soil damage and increased run-off entering waterways during storm events?
  • Paddock selection for winter is crucial – it's best to choose paddocks away from waterways and wet areas prone to pugging to reduce the risk of sediment and nutrient run-off.
  • When planting the crop, leave grass buffer strips around critical source areas, such as gullies and swales, where the run-off collects and flows out of the paddock.
  • Have a good look at the landscape and ensure there are larger buffers around the waterways. This can really help reduce sediment and nutrient loss into waterways.
  • Graze strategically by protecting any critical source areas. Leave them in the pasture or graze last, when it is dry, if they need to be grazed at all.
  • It's also a good idea to back-fence stock off the land that has already been grazed, to even further reduce run-off. Strategic grazing and careful management of critical source areas can reduce losses of sediment and phosphorous (P) by 80-90%.
  • In wet conditions, practice on/off grazing to minimise pugging damage to the soil and distribute nutrients from dung and urine more widely.
  • Plant a cool tolerant follow-up crop, such as oats or rye, as soon as possible after grazing. This can soak up nutrients from the soil, rather than them being leached if the paddock is left fallow.

Where to find more information

We know these changes can be confusing, and we’re here to help. If you have any questions regarding intensive winter grazing rules and practices, email us at winter.grazing@ecan.govt.nz with your specific queries, and we’ll get back to you with advice. Or contact your local Land Management Advisor for advice.

Your industry partners (DairyNZ, Beef + Lamb New Zealand, Deer NZ and others) will have guidance and templates that can help you with your intensive winter grazing and other farm management.

Why aren't Freshwater Farm Plans an option?

On 30 September 2022, the Ministry for the Environment released an update on Freshwater Farm Plans. The Ministry has indicated that Canterbury will be among the last regions to be able to use Freshwater Farm Plans. However, the rule change from 1 November 2022 still applies, so you will need a resource consent if you cannot operate as a Permitted Activity.

What about deemed permits?

We are aware that other regional councils are using a "deemed permit" approach for the 2023 season. However, this approach will not be used in Canterbury as the Ministry for the Environment has indicated that Canterbury will be among the last regions to have Freshwater Fam Plans rolled out, so this option may be several years away, and deemed permits will not give farmers certainty they need.

What exactly is annual forage crop?

An annual forage crop is a crop, other than pasture, that is grazed in the place where it is grown. Annual ryegrass is a pasture, so isn’t considered an annual forage crop.

What exactly are the Permitted Activity requirements?
  • Land area used for intensive winter grazing must meet both of the following conditions: The area used for intensive winter grazing must not exceed 50ha or 10% of the farm, whichever is greater. The total area used for intensive winter grazing must be no greater than the maximum area used for intensive winter grazing in any single season between 1 July 2014 and 30 June 2019 (reference period). If you can’t meet either of these requirements, you will require resource consent.
  • Slope: Land with a maximum slope of less than 10 degrees (as defined above) may be used for intensive winter grazing activities, subject to satisfying other conditions. Intensive winter grazing on land with a slope of more than 10 degrees will need either a resource consent or certified freshwater farm plan.
  • Pugging: You are required to take all reasonably practicable steps to minimise the effects of pugging on freshwater.
  • Distance from waterways: Livestock must be kept at least 5m from the bed of any river, lake, wetland, or drain, regardless of whether there is any water in it at the time. An exception to this rule applies to subsurface drains, where the 5m distance requirement does not apply. Find out more about stock exclusion rules.
  • Resowing: You are required to establish vegetation as ground cover as soon as practicable after grazing.
  • Critical source areas: Anyone undertaking intensive winter grazing activities must protect critical source areas. All critical source areas:
    – must be left ungrazed;
    – must have vegetation as ground cover; and
    – must not be used to grow forage crops.