Council heads-up raises concerns
Inspectors looking for evidence of dirty dairying are giving farmers up to three days warning of an inspection – which critics say is like police telling motorists where drink-drive checkpoints will be.
Information obtained from regional councils and unitary authorities under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act shows that eight of the 17 councils give farmers at least 24 hours forewarning of inspections.
Fish & Game chief executive Bryce Johnson said this makes ‘‘an absolute nonsense’’ of monitoring.
‘‘It’s akin to police letting drivers know where and when they will be setting up drink-driving checkpoints.’’
Other industries, such as rest homes and private hospitals, were subject to unannounced spot-checks and dairy farming should be no different, he said.
Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright also said councils should be making unannounced inspections.
‘‘Letting farmers know ahead of time that an inspection is about to happen would matter if a significant breach can be ‘covered up’ quickly,’’ she said, adding ‘‘that may seldom be the case’’.
Those councils that prewarn farmers – including Auckland, Horizons, Hawke’s Bay, Tasman, Nelson and West Coast – account for more than 1900 of the country’s 12,126 dairy farms.
Pre-notification occurs despite an agreement by councils in 2007 that inspections should ‘‘generally be without notice’’.
Other variances between councils include some not conducting ground inspections on every farm every year.
In Waikato, home to a third of all dairy farms, some of the 400 farms with oxidation ponds get advance warning of an inspection.
The rest are inspected by helicopter, but not all will have a ground inspection.
Federated Farmers dairy chairman Willy Leferink said most regional councils did not pre-notify their inspections.
‘‘The exceptions are West Coast and Taranaki regional councils, who do book appointments.’’
But that was news to Taranaki Regional Council compliance manager Bruce Pope, who said the council had ‘‘never booked appointments with farmers for dairy inspections’’.
The practice of nonnotification ‘‘was developed nationally by regional council compliance managers to ensure that the system is operating ‘as usual’ at the time of the inspection’’, he said.
‘‘Farmers could adjust their system to prevent noncompliance if they were given prior notice. For example, pipes can be reconnected, irrigators can be quickly moved and a stormwater bypass can be changed over in seconds.’’
Mr Leferink said Federated Farmers ‘‘favours the notified route because the inspection process should be about boosting good management practices’’ and was ‘‘a much more efficient use of council and farmer time’’.
‘‘I must also say that trust will only be built up if we respect each other and that extends to basic professional courtesy.’’
Horizons regulation manager Richard Munneke said the council decided to notify farmers a few years ago on the back of vastly improved compliance rates.
A spokesman for Environment Minister Amy Adams said any decision about notifying inspections ‘‘is one for each council’’.
‘‘It is the minister’s expectation that councils would apply their processes consistently across all monitored consents in their area, regardless of industry type.’’