Environment Canterbury decision provides consenting pathway for vegetables

With ever-increasing pressure on land available for horticulture, rotating soils to avoid soil-borne disease becomes harder and harder. In Canterbury, adding to this was an operative region-wide nutrient management framework within the Canterbury Land and Water Regional Plan (CLWRP) with significant limitations for commercial vegetable production.

While other farming activities were securing farming land use consents, vegetable growers found themselves unable to do so. Farming land use consent could only be issued for specified land parcels. However, commercial vegetable production needs flexibility to access fresh land to enable soil rotation. This tends to be achieved through rotation across both owned and leased land, and leasing could be either long or short term.

Therefore, part of the problem was that a land use consent is attached to specific land parcels, but also the CLWRP assigns nitrogen loss rates to land, not to the activity. This means that when looking for fresh land there was the associated challenge to find land with a sufficient nitrogen limit to accommodate commercial vegetable production. Both factors were problematic for vegetable growers when rotating and presented significant complications for consenting.

In addition, there were limitations in the ability of OVERSEER® to reliably estimate nitrogen losses from commercial vegetable growing, complexities and costs associated with the preparation of nutrient budgets.

Furthermore, the complex framework of the CLWRP means that no single set of provisions applies to commercial vegetable production due to a range of sub-region-specific rules, as many growers grow vegetables in and across multiple sub-regions.

All this has added to the complexity of obtaining a farming land use consent for commercial vegetable production. For these reasons, Horticulture New Zealand approached Environment Canterbury (ECan) to address the issue in late 2017.

Through discussions with ECan staff, it was determined that a plan change was needed to ensure a consenting pathway for commercial vegetable production. As a first step and to assist ECan in better understanding the issue, a series of grower workshops was held in 2018.

One key outcome from the workshops was the clear understanding that a land use consent was not going to work for commercial vegetable growing, as any consent needed to allow a degree of flexibility for location. It was established that a discharge permit would be more enabling for commercial vegetable production across Canterbury.

In July 2019, ECan notified Plan Change 7 (PC7) to the CLWRP. Part A of PC7 proposed a new consenting framework for commercial vegetable production.

HortNZ lodged a submission in general support but seeking amendments to ensure the new rules would be workable for our industry into the future. The decision was released by ECan in November 2021. Overall, we are pleased with the decision, as the Canterbury Land and Water Plan will now recognize the importance of commercial vegetable production (CVP) and provide a workable consent pathway.

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