RMA Enforcement Orders - Tools To Promote Sustainable Farming

14 December 2014

Every farmer in New Zealand will be acutely aware of the increasing push towards sustainable management on the farm. The stated purpose of the Resource Management Act (commonly referred to as the RMA) is “to promote the sustainable management of natural and physical resources”. That purpose is the benchmark against which our Environment Court makes its decisions. In achieving that purpose one of the tools in the Environment Court’s toolbox is the making of an enforcement order.

An enforcement order under the RMA can direct people to do things such as comply with a rule in a regional or district plan or make good any adverse environmental effects from their activities. This could include payment of compensation for any clean-up.


Dairy farmers must undertake substantial work to meet RMA requirements

It will be no surprise that effluent disposal and management is high on the sustainable farming agenda. For example, in a recent case, the Environment Court was asked by the Council to make enforcement orders requiring a dairy farming business to do the following:

  • Undertake work on the dairy shed and tanker turnaround area

  • Install an effluent pond meeting the Council’s storage and design requirements

  • Provide Council with an expert’s report and management plan to ensure that the farm meets “Best Practice” management of dairy shed effluent

  • Repair the existing travelling irrigator so that it can deal with the effluent generated by 700 cows

  • Grade all farm raceways to remove effluent and mud and re-construct them to direct run-off onto grass areas and prevent it from entering drains and waterways

  • Meet all Council requirements in relation to any offal pits on the farm

  • Establish and operate stock road crossings that have appropriate effluent disposal facilities (including concrete pads, water washing facilities and diversion of effluent to grass areas) and provide clear visibility and warning signs for road users

  • Allow entry of any Council officers to inspect the property and monitor compliance with the orders

  • Pay the Council’s costs of the application for the orders, monitoring compliance and remedying any adverse effects on the environment.

Although the Environment Court did not grant the orders precisely as sought by the Council, the farming business was ordered to undertake substantial work that would ensure that the RMA’s environmental objectives are achieved. The director of the company must also personally comply with the enforcement orders.

If the company and its director fail to comply with the orders, they risk serious consequences - further enforcement action, cancellation of the relevant resource consent and an order to de-stock the farm. This will mean that the company will no longer be able to carry on its dairy farming business.


Looking to the future

It is clear that the screws are tightening on farmers who choose to flout their environmental responsibilities. All farmers should be educating themselves and adapting their systems to meet sustainable management of the valuable resources at their disposal.



Please email me at [email protected] with your ideas for future articles.  Keep an eye out for next month’s column, where I will discuss another relevant rural legal issue.

Barbara McDermott is a partner of Norris Ward McKinnon, specialising in commercial and rural law.  With offices in Hamilton and Huntly, we have friendly, expert legal advisors ready to help you with your business and personal legal matters.   Find out more about us at