Intensive winter grazing

Intensive winter grazing is a farming practice where large numbers of stock are confined over winter to small feeding areas planted with annual forage crops. If done poorly or too extensively, it can result in serious negative effects on animal welfare and the environment.

Background

Regulations to better control the effects of intensive winter grazing were introduced in the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater 2020 (NES-F) as part of the Essential Freshwater reforms.

The regulations seek to improve intensive winter grazing practices by providing three pathways for farmers doing it:

Pathway 1.  Intensive winter grazing is permitted if a farmer complies with default conditions set out in the NES-F, or

Pathway 2.  Intensive winter grazing is permitted if a farmer obtains a certified freshwater farm plan that achieves an equivalent (or better) outcome. The farm plan must demonstrate that any adverse effects in relation to the IWG are no greater than those allowed for by the default conditions.

Pathway 3. If neither of Pathways 1 nor 2 can be met, a farmer needs to obtain a resource consent for intensive winter grazing activities.

In 2021, and in response to feedback about implementation issues, the Government deferred the commencement date of regulations and publicly consulted on changes to make them more practical to comply with the regulations – while still managing the effects of intensive winter grazing.

Alongside these changes, the Government has worked with regional councils and the primary sector to develop a farm planning module focused on intensive winter grazing, and encourage its adoption to improve practices during the 2022 grazing season.

Regulations updated as of April 2022

Having considered feedback to date, the Government has amended intensive winter grazing regulations in the NES-F to address implementation issues.

Amendment regulations can be viewed here.

The following provides an overview of the key changes:

Timing

Updated regulations will come into effect from 1 November 2022 (not 1 May 2022) and will not impact the 2022 winter grazing season.

Those planning intensive winter grazing operations for the 2023 season, however, will need to become familiar with the new intensive winter grazing regulations and requirements. Existing use rights will not be available for the 2023 season and practices will need to be adjusted to comply with the new regulations.

Slope

Slope is now defined as the maximum slope (i.e. the elevation difference across any 20 metre distance) for any area being used for intensive winter grazing. This replaces the definition of slope as ‘mean slope across a paddock’.

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

Default conditions around pugging have been replaced with a stand-alone duty to take all reasonably practicable steps to minimise the effects of pugging on freshwater.

Sub-surface drains

The definition of drains has been amended to exclude subsurface drains in relation to intensive winter grazing. This means requirement to keep stock at least 5m away from waterways does not apply to subsurface drains.

Resow

Default conditions around resowing have been replaced with a stand-alone duty to establish vegetation as ground cover as soon as practicable after grazing.

Critical source areas

A new default condition has been added around critical source areas. Anyone undertaking intensive winter grazing activities must protect critical source areas – these must be left ungrazed, have vegetation as ground cover, and they must not be cultivated in annual forage crop.

Upcoming guidance

Officials from the Ministry for the Environment and Ministry for Primary Industries are developing guidance. 

  • An updated fact sheet on intensive winter grazing will be available by mid-2022. This will replace the original fact sheet from late 2020.
  • The farm planning module focused on intensive winter grazing will be updated by mid-2022.
  • Guidance on changes to the intensive winter grazing regulations will be made available in the third quarter of 2022.
  • Technical guidance to support implementation of the intensive winter grazing regulations will be made available in the third quarter of 2022.

For all implementation guidance and any changes please see here.