Farm­ers al­ready cleaned up act

Matamata Chronicle - - Rural Delivery - By JAMES HOUGHTON

Thirty years ago, 90 per cent of the is­sues in rivers came from the back ends of cows. Now that is less than 5 per cent.

Farm­ers are do­ing their bit and we should look at where the other 95 per cent of the is­sues come from.

Have Mike ‘‘the Eel Man’’ Joy and his side­kicks got the sci­ence on the ef­fects of in­tro­duced species such as trout, koi carp and ducks, on water­ways like Hamil­ton Lake?

Per­haps they should ap­ply for a $300,000 Waikato River Au­thor­ity grant to do the re­search around the im­pact of other species on our water­ways. Do I need to ap­ply on their be­half?

When it comes to crazy ideas on clean­ing up water­ways, I noted in a re­cent Jon Mor­gan col­umn Mr Joy is again call­ing to re­strict farms to one cow per two hectares. Mr Joy has to get real. These re­stric­tions would ef­fec­tively wipe out about 85 per cent of the national herd.

This would not just re­duce dairy farm­ers’ in­comes; it would make most un­eco­nomic.

It is not greed which drives us to in­crease pro­duc­tion. It is the need to con­tend with ris­ing costs, in­clud­ing com­pli­ance. Fur­ther in­creas­ing costs while slash­ing herds would put most of us out of busi­ness and po­ten­tially col­lapse the coun­try’s econ­omy as dairy exports plum­meted.

One ab­so­lute way to ac­count for ef­flu­ent was re­jected out of hand a cou­ple of years ago in the South Is­land.

I found the pub­lic out­cry around the pro­pos­als for in­door dairy farm­ing op­er­a­tions in the Macken­zie Basin at odds with the en­vi­ron­men­tal de­mands made by Mr Joy and many oth­ers. Such farm­ing prac­tices would al­low farm­ers to ac­count for ev­ery drop of ef­flu­ent ex­pelled from an an­i­mal but the sug­ges­tion raised the hack­les of tra­di­tional farm­ing’s great­est crit­ics. These crit­ics also need to re­alise there is plenty of change hap­pen­ing in the dairy in­dus­try.

Be­tween coun­cil polic­ing and penal­ties and the best-prac­tice in­cen­tives and ed­u­ca­tion pro­vided by the likes of Dairynz and Fon­terra, the in­dus­try is rapidly clean­ing up its act.

If we had our heads in the sand, as Mr Joy and co be­lieve, Waikato would not have seen the huge re­duc­tion in con­sent non­com­pli­ance last year.

That is not to say some farm­ers couldn’t do bet­ter. I have of­ten said there is no room in dairy for farm­ers who ig­nore reg­u­la­tions or con­sent con­di­tions.

It is re­gional coun­cils’ job to pro­tect the environment and those in the agri­cul­ture busi­ness have to be pre­pared for the day when coun­cil staff make an in­spec­tion visit. Farm­ers should have ac­tion plans with clear lines of ac­count­abil­ity and di­rec­tion.

I would love to see the day when farm­ers wel­come re­gional coun­cil staff on their farms to im­prove farm­ers’ en­vi­ron­men­tal at­ti­tudes, man­age­ment and sys­tems.

I want them to feel cheated if they aren’t vis­ited.

These vis­its are along the lines of get­ting pulled over at a po­lice breath- test­ing check­point.

Bad peo­ple have some­thing to fear but for law-abid­ing cit­i­zens they are part of ev­ery­day life. How now so­ci­ety frowns on drink driv­ers. This has been a pos­i­tive cul­ture change. While other trav­ellers com­plain about de­lays, farm­ers feel cheated if they are not in­ter­ro­gated by Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture staff when re­turn­ing from over­seas.

They are acutely aware their abil­ity to pro­vide for their fam­i­lies is at risk from for­eign plant and an­i­mal dis­eases and par­a­sites.

So who will be held ac­count­able for the lat­est po­ten­tial biose­cu­rity breach; al­low­ing ‘‘Buzzy’’ straw­berry plant kits to be sold at The Ware­house?

In­stead of be­ing quar­an­tined af­ter ar­riv­ing from China, these kits were re­leased straight on to the mar­ket.

If you have one, they need to be re­turned for a full re­fund of $3.99 at The Ware­house stores, or if planted out and grow­ing they should be thrown, dirt and all, into the rub­bish to be buried in land­fill. Do not com­post them. What is at stake? There is ev­ery pos­si­bil­ity pre­vi­ously un­known viruses could es­cape ‘‘into the wild’’ and dev­as­tate an agri­cul­tural or hor­ti­cul­tural in­dus­try.

The ki­wifruit grow­ers star­ing at fi­nan­cial obliv­ion fol­low­ing the in­tro­duc­tion of the Psa-v virus in the Bay of Plenty are well aware of the con­se­quences.

With vi­able sam­ples of the virus found in the air above or­chards and fears it has spread as far as Auck­land, things are look­ing grim for the whole in­dus­try.

The Environment Court’s de­ci­sion on Vari­a­tion 6 of the pro­posed Waikato Re­gional Plan looks to be a big im­prove­ment on what was orig­i­nally put for­ward, val­i­dat­ing the work and ex­pense to the Agri­cul­tural Work­ing Group, which in­cluded among oth­ers Fed­er­ated Farm­ers and Fon­terra.

The lawyers are still look­ing at the de­ci­sion’s ram­i­fi­ca­tions and in­ter­pre­ta­tions but my ini­tial feel­ing is pay­ing for this ac­tion was money well spent.

This is a much bet­ter out­come than the Fed­er­a­tion or the other par­ties alone could have ne­go­ti­ated.

En­vi­ron­men­tal omic sense.

ideas must make


James Houghton

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