Get­ting se­ri­ous about streams

Small ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties are find­ing strength in num­bers as they rise to the chal­lenge of clean­ing up water­ways.

Element - - Planet - BAR­BARA STU­ART Bar­bara Stu­art is the Nel­son/Marl­bor­ough Re­gional Co­or­di­na­tor for NZ Land­care Trust. Stu­art has ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing with ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties, es­pe­cially in the dairy catch­ments across the re­gion. As a farmer her­self she un­der­stands t

Farm­ing fam­i­lies in the Aorere Val­ley of Golden Bay have led the way na­tion­ally in their re­sponse to a cross in­dus­try con­flict over wa­ter qual­ity. The Aorere River was not a badly pol­luted river com­pared to many around the coun­try, how­ever what was dif­fer­ent was the pres­ence of aqua­cul­ture marine farm­ing in and around the river plume, where it en­ters the sea.

In 2004 it came as a huge sur­prise when it was dis­cov­ered that in­vis­i­ble bac­te­rial run-off from pas­tures was af­fect­ing wa­ter qual­ity in the coastal marine har­vest­ing area. This un­pleas­ant dis­cov­ery led to the in­volve­ment of NZ Land­care Trust, who stepped in to aid farmer ac­tion and as­sist with the for­ma­tion of the Aorere Catch­ment Group. With this sup­port the dairy­ing com­mu­nity group sourced fund­ing from Min­istry for Pri­mary In­dus­tries’ Sus­tain­able Farm­ing Fund to iden­tify best steps for farm­ers in the val­ley, and im­por­tantly ‘power-up’ farmer lead­er­ship and knowl­edge.

The farm­ers com­mis­sioned their own sci­en­tific re­port, iden­ti­fied best farm man­age­ment prac­tices and de­vel­oped en­vi­ron­men­tal farm plans. This led to huge im­prove­ments for the marine farm­ers, who ex­pe­ri­enced a big turn­around in the num­ber of days they could har­vest mus­sels; in­creas­ing from 28 per cent to 79 per cent.

Tas­man Dis­trict Coun­cil (TDC) has backed this pos­i­tive re­sult with the find­ings of their re­cent Dairy Farm Sur­vey which took place be­tween Novem­ber 2012 and April 2013. This was prompted by ques­tions from the Marine Farm In­dus­try claim­ing di­rect dis­charges were still tak­ing place. TDC took this prompt­ing very se­ri­ously and un­der­took the re­view to es­tab­lish how and where farm run-off was likely to af­fect shell­fish har­vest. The re­cently pub­lished re­view has been re­ceived favourably by both groups and re­ports the 30 dairy farms with a com­bined stock­ing rate slightly lower than the national aver­age of 2.54 cows per hectare is on track to meet the Clean Streams 2013 tar­get. It out­lines that 89 per cent of water­ways are fenced as re­quired by the Tas­man Re­source Man­age­ment plan.

The Coun­cil has de­vel­oped a help­ful ma­trix for gaug­ing low, medium and high risk sys­tems based on soil types. This is a good tool for help­ing farm­ers to un­der­stand their farms and sys­tems to re­duce run-off. Both farm­ers and Fon­terra have been very re­cep­tive to the Coun­cil’s ap­proach.

Aorere farmer and Fed­er­ated Farm­ers Golden Bay Provin­cial Pres­i­dent Sue Brown says: “With­out the NZ Land­care Trust’s whole catch­ment ap­proach and our Sus­tain­able Farm­ing Fund Pro­ject, dairy farm­ers in the Aorere would have been slated as pol­luters. The pro­ject saved us, we have a model which clearly shows that it’s rain events and the flush­ing and scour­ing of sed­i­ment build-up in water­ways from through­out the catch­ment af­ter the two most re­cent flood events which has changed the river. Both our in­dus­tries can now con­tinue to pro-ac­tively min­imise risks based on a clear sci­en­tific ap­proach rather than fear.”

The NZ Land­care Trust con­tin­ues to work with other pro-ac­tive dairy farmer groups at Marl­bor­ough with RaiPelorus Catch­ment Group and in Tas­man with the Sherry River Catch­ment Group which is a sub-catch­ment of the Motueka River. Farm­ers there were in­volved in the Motueka In­te­grated Man­age­ment Pro­ject’s study, and un­der­took to use the ‘whole catch­ment farm en­vi­ron­men­tal plan ap­proach to suc­cess­fully track im­prove­ments.

Sue Brown

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