Site visits best way to check compliance
At a recent committee meeting of Waikato Regional Council a call was made to reintroduce helicopter surveillance of dairy farms to ensure compliance of effluent management.
Prior to 2014 helicopter surveillance was a regular occurrence. Regional council argued that it allowed monitoring over a large area of the region in a most cost-effective way. Farmers on the other hand argued that it was a blatant breach of privacy to fly low level over the farms looking for anything to ping the farmer on. There were also concerns that with a low financial payout, incessant rain and the pressures of calving, the added stress of a chopper flying around, had the potential of increasing farmer suicide.
There were also threats by farmers to get out the shotgun and fire off a couple of rounds. Relationships between council and the farming community was at an all-time low.
Fellow Waihou regional councillor Stuart Husband and I took up the challenge to find a better way to improve relationships while leaving council to undertake their responsibility to monitor effluent. The first change was to immediately stop the spying helicopters. The next change was to randomly select farms, phone the owner to make an appointment, and then go out on site. In all cases the farmers welcomed the council staff.
It was also acknowledged that every single dairy farm in the region was inspected every year by an independent body called QCONS. The inspection looks at all aspects of the operation including cleanliness, hygiene, water quality, effluent systems, etc. Without a tick off from QCONS the dairy company can suspend picking up the milk. To test how well the new system is operating, council recently resolved to undertake 100 random farm visits with no prior notification to the farmers.
I personally do not expect that any great non-compliance will be discovered. The vast majority of farmers are fully compliant and the odd one still taking shortcuts is usually dobbed in by his neighbour.
Relations between council and the farmers is still positive. Reintroducing choppers to spy on the farmers would be a backward step in my opinion.
-Hugh Vercoe, Waikato regional councillor, Waihou.
Hugh Vercoe, looking for better ways to check rural property compliance.