Central Otago farmers have demonstrated positive practices in their winter grazing efforts, but there is no room to rest on their laurels, Federated Farmers says.

The Otago Regional Council conducted winter grazing compliance flyovers in the region last month to ensure farmers were meeting national and regional requirements.

While the Government deferred introducing some of the new regulations around intensive winter grazing, rules preventing the expansion of intensive winter grazing still applied.

Environment Minister David Parker and Agriculture Minister Damian O’Connor had outlined expectations for measurable improvements in winter grazing practices during the next 12 months.

The Central Otago flight covered Beaumont through to Queenstown, and north to the lakes, including Makarora and the Ida Valley.

ORC compliance manager Tami Sargeant

ORC compliance manager Tami Sargeant said the aim of the flyover was to identify areas of risk and to encourage good management to mitigate any problems.

It showed there was good practice in the region. Farmers were keeping clear of critical source areas, block feeding and grazing from the top of slopes to the bottom.

“It’s really encouraging to see farmers demonstrating good management practices in their winter grazing preparation this year, and a lot of good work is being done in the industry to improve environmental practice,” Ms Sargeant said.

The common potential winter grazing risk areas included surface water ponding in flat terrain which could mobilise sediment in heavy rain, unfenced waterways or waterways without buffers, and some steep paddocks, she said.

No winter grazing breaches were identified that warranted further action or prosecution, but ORC staff would follow up with landowners where high-risk areas were identified.

This included advice on how to avoid any rule breaches and information on relevant industry groups to provide support.

The flyovers, and later follow-up were chances to educate people about the new requirements, Ms Sargeant said.

Otago Federated Farmers president Mark Patterson said while the flyovers had “a bit of a big brother feel”, it was the reality in a “new world of compliance”.

“The benefit of it is it identifies areas that can be triaged as at risk,” he said.

“We have been given notice by the regional councils that they’re expecting a change in winter grazing measures and it’s great to see that happening with farmers.”

Most farmers met their obligations but a few let the side down, he said.

Uncertainty around the burden the new requirements might impose and their impact on farmers, such as having to apply for resource consent for practices they had been doing for generations, was a concern for many.

“We’ve got to take these things seriously .. there’s no room for error,” he said.