The Horizons Regional Council's issues with nutrient leaching requirements in its One Plan are frightening and sad, it says.
Councillors voted unanimously at a meeting yesterday to investigate changes that cover intensive farming and nutrient leeching, in particular nitrogen.
The decision was made following an Environment Court ruling which said nitrogen limits must be enforced.
The council was taken to court by Fish and Game and the Environmental Defence society over mismanagement of the One Plan in relation to resource consent applications last year.
The council argued there was a blip in the system: when the One Plan was adopted in 2007, about 80 percent of farms would have got consent, but as Overseer - the software used to track nutrient management - was updated, the numbers became unworkable.
If farmers and market gardeners had to meet the nitrogen reduction requirements under the current One Plan, most would go out of business.
Instead, the 180 dairy farmers and 20 market gardeners who have applied for consents will continue their operations, unauthorised.
The council was quickly trying to work out a new consent process that would work.
Federated Farmers Tararua president Neil Filer said farmers were in limbo, but it was a relief that the council had agreed to investigate changes.
"When the Overseer version changed, which was an unforseen thing in the regulations, that basically flipped the whole thing on its head.
"Basically 90 to 95 percent of farms now have no chance of making the allowances Horizons have given us, and we all have to shut our farms down or come up with a new plan," he said.
Twenty percent of the region's entire dairying area had reduced nitrogen leaching by about nine percent, he said.
While it was estimated changes to the plan could take between two and four years, Horizons Regional Council chairman Bruce Gordan said the council was focused on finding an interim solution around consents.
"We're going to come back with suggested minor changes in the meantime, and try to negotiate that with Fish and Game and EDS who took us to court," he said.
He was hoping a solution may come out of a meeting between the three parties next Friday.
Farmers will remain in limbo until the council can create a path forward, he says.
"If someone's consent has just come up for renewal, there is no pathway forward at present time for us to process that consent.
"No matter what work they do, no matter what costs they go to, it's virtually impossible for existing farmers. For new farmers coming in, totally impossible.
"It's a very sad, frightening situation," he said.
The council has referred to it as a blip in the system, and said it would make necessary changes.
The regional council would not prosecuting people who could not meet the restrictions, he said, but they would be following up to make sure farmers were continuing the work they had agreed to in terms of reducing nitrogen leaching.