Time to come clean in the cow­shed

Matamata Chronicle - - News - By AARON LEA­MAN

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

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