NZ’s thoroughbred breeders add equine voice to healthy rivers policy

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The New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders Association has spoken out on behalf of horse owners during a hearing process to define Waikato Regional Council’s healthy rivers policy.

An increase in political action has provided policy and regulatory framework to remedy the declining water quality throughout New Zealand. It has been well documented that poor farming practises over the years have led to a loss of nutrients in the soil and pollution of the waterways.

The New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders Association’s (NZTBA) involvement was prompted by information that the council was using an agriculture software product that classed horses in the same category as sheep and cattle, which would mean that there could be increased costs to horse breeders for ongoing compliance.

The findings will herald major rule change and compliance on agricultural farming including equine farming in the region. The NZTBA believes that what is happening in the Waikato region will happen in other areas throughout New Zealand where rivers flow, and hope to develop a blueprint for members’ farms in other regions.

In 2017 the Waikato Regional Council (WRC), began the process of forming the policy dubbed “Plan Change 1- Waikato and Waipa Catchments”. The agricultural software product Overseer that the council was using enables farmers and growers to improve nutrient use on farms. It estimates long-term average nutrient losses from farms, and it is used by some Regional Councils to support an effects-based approach to managing fresh water as part of the government’s National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management.

Overseer assumes that horses are equivalent to ruminant animals when estimating nutrient losses, but as a mono-gastric hindgut ferment horses utilise nutrients differently. As it stands the Plan Change 1 had no consideration of the potential impacts on equine properties and their livelihoods.

After undertaking research on the subject, the NZTBA employed the services of Sally Linton, a specialist environmental consultant working primarily in the rural sector on resource management and policy for central and local government.

“Sally Linton has helped us to understand the processes involved and the potential impact on our livelihoods if we were not as an industry involved in the process at the initial hearing stage,” NZTBA CEO Justine Sclater said.

“There had been no consideration of the potential impacts on equine properties as there is a significant difference between our farming practices and other primary industries such as dairying. As an industry we are trying to raise an athlete, therefore, it is a different mechanism to raising a food producing animal.

“In general, equine farms are usually compliant as they are well planted with trees and all waterways are fenced off, any obstacles that present hazards are fenced to lessen the risk of any potential injury. Horses are often housed indoors during wet and cold periods and our fertilizer inputs are different to other grazing farms.”

The farming methods used by equine people usually demonstrate Good Management Plans (GMP), Slater said.

Over the past 18 months the NZTBA has continued conversations with other sectors groups within the equine industry and along with several breeders and Sally Linton, have met with the WRC to state their case for a workable outcome for the industry and the WRC.

In late 2018 the NZTBA filed a substantial submission representing the entire equine industry. More recently, along with several breeders domiciled in the WRC and relevant scientific specialists, the NZTBA verbally presented at the submission hearing.

“We felt we were received favourably by the panel as we were organised and professional with our presentation, providing a thorough and good understanding of our practices,” Sclater said.

“The outcome of the hearing will not be advised until at least March next year and the best-case scenario is we will have 10 years to bring ourselves up to speed and show that we are compliant.

“In the meantime, we will continue to work closely with the WRC on this matter.

“Sooner or later Freshwater Management is going to affect properties with horses all over the country and we have put a lot of time and resources in ensuring we have the best advice possible to provide for our members and those in the equine industry.”

From all this research and consultation, the NZTBA hope to develop a manual on good environmental stewardship which will be available on their website.

Going forward it is intended to hold a field day at a stud farm property in the Waikato that promotes GMP, as well as hosting educational seminars nationwide.

It is intended that the Equine Research Foundation, where the NZTBA has representation, will also become involved in projects that assist the equine industry in leaving a minimal environmental footprint.

NZ Thoroughbred Marketing

Michelle Saba

Michelle Saba is a New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders Association council member.

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