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Fresh concerns for those contemplating a purchase of rural land

By Kay Keam - 1 Nov 2012

A recent Environment Court decision limiting effluent flow from farms has come hot on the heels of a Ministry of Environment report finding that the water quality at more than half the recreational swimming spots it monitors is poor or very poor. 

The Environment Court decision on the Horizons Regional Council's 'One Plan' will inevitably have an impact on current farming intensity practices and after a lengthy period of consultation, hearings and litigation, the Council has won the right to control the impact that everyday farming practice has on rivers and lakes. The draft One Plan was first released in 2010 and interested groups were given the opportunity to appeal aspects of the Plan which were of concern. The appeals process has now come to an end, and the Environment Court has released its decision.

For years farmers have been aware that resource consents are needed to manage the flow of effluent from dairy sheds. However, the One Plan goes one step further. It sets hard limits on the volume of nutrients allowed to drain from the soil and into waterways and sets up a regime where a resource consent will be needed in order to discharge contaminants from the soil into lakes and rivers. At this stage it would appear that contamination is defined as that caused by fertilizer run-off and livestock defecating on soil. To cut a long story short, it effectively requires a consent to farm!

The One Plan also requires farmers to meet increasingly stringent "leaching" limits over the next 20 years, using a nutrient budgeting program to monitor nitrogen losses from the soil. These leaching limits will vary depending on the type of land, which is classified using a system which takes into account the soil type, geology, slope and climate. The land is then given a rating, with the result that the flatter the land the higher the leaching allowance will be. Certain advocacy groups are hoping that this will discourage farmers from converting steep or porous land to intensive dairying, which causes much higher rates of nitrogen leaching than alternative forms of pastoral farming.

The above issues will raise fresh concerns for those contemplating a purchase of rural land within those areas governed by the One Plan. A diligent purchaser will want to confirm that the landowner has the necessary resource consents in place in order for the farming operation to continue smoothly after settlement. The purchaser will also want to ensure that any penalty for breaching the "leaching limits" prior to settlement will be the responsibility of the previous owner. The potential expiry date of any such resource consent and the cost of reapplying for any substitute consent should also be given consideration.


Kay Keam


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