Fewer prosecutions augur well for environment
Dairy farmers appear to be cleaning up their act, with fewer farms prosecuted for dirty dairying this year than previously.
Figures obtained by Fairfax Media reveal the 17 regional councils successfully prosecuted 21 dairy effluent offences in the year to July 1, resulting in fines of $847,600.
This is the lowest number of convictions in recent years, and is fewer than half those of 2008-09 or 2009-10.
The figures were obtained under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act.
On the down side, the number of abatement notices and infringements issued climbed slightly on last year, from 290 to 303 and 221 to 253 respectively. This is still a significant decrease from the 2008-09 year, when there were 49 prosecutions and 537 abatement notices and 500 infringement notices.
Federated Farmers president William Rolleston said the organisation was happy to see the industry’s ‘‘legal footprint’’ was improving.
‘‘While 21 prosecutions is 21 too many, we need to remember that there are some 12,000 dairy herds in New Zealand.
‘‘It affirms our view that there is a genuine change of culture in farming. A decade ago the main topic would be stocking rates but today it is dominated by environmental factors.
‘‘When you’ve got weatherbeaten dairy farmers in their late 50s comparing notes on riparian plantings and ground sensors, you know there’s a cultural change.
‘‘We also need to be realistic that these numbers will oscillate and some years will be better than others, but the overall trend is positive,’’ Rolleston said.
‘‘We are also seeing the courts taking a much tougher line, with the average fine growing substantially as each season passes. Clearly, the courts take the view that there is plenty of support there from not just us, but from DairyNZ, dairy processors, consultants and even some councils.
‘‘After some years of tension, we are seeing councils communicating better with farmers, and this has made a substantial difference to compliance.’’
Fish & Game chief executive Bryce Johnson welcomed the lower figure but said ‘‘we have to be aware that even just one offence can cause huge damage, can completely ruin a stream’’.
He cited the the case of Northland farmer Craig Roberts, who was fined a record $137,750 last year. Johnson said the group remained concerned at the variance in monitoring regimes between councils.