Site visits best way to check com­pli­ance

Matamata Chronicle - - & About - HUGH VER­COE

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.

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