Time to come clean in the cowshed
Dairy farmers are Waikato’s standout polluters of the past decade, with more than half of the region’s Resource Management Act prosecutions relating to dirty dairying.
Figures obtained by the Waikato Times show the Waikato Regional Council has brought 99 RMA cases in the past nine years, with 54 cases relating to the unlawful discharging of dairy effluent.
There are about 4140 dairy farms in the Waikato region.
The dirty dairying figures come as the industry’s impact on waterways comes under renewed scrutiny, with a new report saying unchecked dairy conversion rates will lead to further water quality decline.
The report released yesterday by Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Jan Wright projects current dairy conversion rates up to 2020.
‘‘Even with best-practice mitigation, the large-scale conversion of more land to dairy farming will generally result in more degraded fresh water,’’ Dr Wright said.
‘‘If we continue to see largescale conversion of land to more intensive uses, it is difficult to see how water quality will not continue to decline in the next few years.’’
Waikato Regional Council chairwoman Paula Southgate said freshwater quality was biggest issue in Waikato.
Last year the regional council embarked on its Healthy Rivers: Plan for Change project, a $2.4 million initiative to amend the Waikato Regional Plan.
The purpose is to manage adverse effects from discharges to land and water in the Waikato and Waipa catchments.
Ms Southgate said the Healthy Rivers project was a ‘‘ groundbreaking’’ collaborative process tasked with finding solutions to protecting water quality.
‘‘By 2016 we need to have made some serious work to set limits and targets for freshwater quality required by the National Policy Statement for Freshwater,’’ Ms Southgate said.
‘‘We’ve seen this coming, we’ve known about the water quality trends and we’re engaged with the community and agricultural sector to make positive change.’’
Forest & Bird advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell said unchecked dairying
the conversion rates could not continue without causing a dramatic reduction in water quality.
‘‘ Understandably, farmers wanting to cash in on the dairy boom won’t like to hear this.
‘‘But the PCE’s report says that even if all dairy farmers employ industry best practice, nitrogen levels are going to increase in virtually every region,’’ Mr Hackwell said.
Todd Muller, Fonterra group director of co-operative affairs, said the company shared Dr Wright’s concerns about the pressure on New Zealand’s waterways and acknowledged its role in improving water quality.
Mr Muller said farmers were working to protect waterways but ‘‘there is more to do’’.
‘‘This year we’ve collected nutrient data from nearly 4000 farms which will provide information to farmers on how to mitigate the impact of nutrients,’’ he said.
Dr Rick Pridmore, DairyNZ’s strategy and investment leader for sustainability, said in upper Waikato, 700 farmers were collectively working to improve water quality in the Waikato River.
The industry’s Sustainable Dairying: Water Accord indicated its commitment to fencing waterways and water, nutrient and effluent management.
But water quality commentator Angus Robson of Matamata said the dairy industry downplayed its environmental impact and public comments were at odds with practices.
He said dairy intensification invariably led to declines in water quality.
‘‘Fonterra want all farmers to fence waterways or else they won’t collect their milk but there’s no independent auditing of this.
‘‘It’s highly likely if you went onto a lot of these approved farms you’d find waterways not properly fenced.
‘‘For us to get improvements in water quality, stock has to be stood off the paddocks much more where the soil is thin and that’s all of upper Waikato.’’
– Waikato Times