Close eye on farm ef­flu­ent

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The Waikato Re­gional Coun­cil is tak­ing a tough stance with farm­ers who don’t have suf­fi­cient ef­flu­ent stor­age.

Nine­teen per cent of Waikato farms have “grossly un­der­sized” ef­flu­ent stor­age and coun­cil­lors have backed a plan aimed at bring­ing them in line.

Coun­cil chair Alan Liv­ingston said, “It’s the old 80/20 rule. Over 80 per cent of farm­ers are in­vest­ing in in­fra­struc­ture to pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment – they’re do­ing the right thing. But their ef­forts, and the rep­u­ta­tion of the dairy in­dus­try, is be­ing threat­ened by a mi­nor­ity of farms.”

Re­gional coun­cil staff will now be adopt­ing a more risk-based mon­i­tor­ing pro­gramme, com­bin­ing one-on-one site vis­its of high risk farms with aerial in­spec­tions which could in­clude us­ing satel­lite im­agery, drones, fixed wing air­craft or, if nec­es­sary, he­li­copters.

Dur­ing Thurs­day’s meeting coun­cil­lors voted in favour of lim­it­ing the use of aerial in­spec­tions to cir­cum­stances where there is cause to sus­pect that prop­er­ties present a high risk of non-com­pli­ance or are non­com­pli­ant.

They also agreed that any aerial op­er­a­tions should be car­ried out in a way that pre­vents an­i­mal dis­tur­bance and in­ter­fer­ence with nor­mal farm op­er­a­tions.

Farm­ing ser­vices man­ager Nicole Botherway ex­plained that a “mix of mon­i­tor­ing tools is needed” and said there were emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies staff could take ad­van­tage of in their reg­u­la­tory work.

“We have some of the most ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion we’ve ever had,” she said. “Nine­teen per cent of Waikato farms have less than seven days’ stor­age based on two milk­ings per day. And in many cases they have a lot less.

“This means that a short spell of wet weather would make il­le­gal dis­charges of dairy ef­flu­ent likely.”

She said: “We’ve asked 432 of Waikato’s high risk farms for plans to up­grade their stor­age, and in four years just 76 have done this. At this rate of change on farm, it would take 27 years for them all to com­ply.

“They need to know their de­lib­er­ate be­hav­iour is not ac­cept­able. So there needs to be an in­creased risk of get­ting caught breach­ing the Re­source Man­age­ment Act for them to change their be­hav­iour and pri­or­i­ties.”

Since an ef­flu­ent mon­i­tor­ing re­view by coun­cil­lors and in­dus­try in 2014, coun­cil reg­u­la­tory staff have pri­mar­ily been car­ry­ing out an­nounced vis­its to farms, and aerial sur­veil­lance for com­pli­ance mon­i­tor­ing was stopped.

Re­source use di­rec­tor Chris Mclay said, “We are at a place now where a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of the farm­ing pop­u­la­tion have or are at­tempt­ing to im­prove their sys­tems and work­ing with them one-on-one has helped.

“But the way we cur­rently do in­spec­tions can­not re­li­ably de­tect non­com­pli­ance with the rules by those who have shown no at­tempt to im­prove their in­fra­struc­ture, and there are some farm­ers who will not com­ply with­out us us­ing other tools at our dis­cre­tion. We have come to a point where we rely on the public or neigh­bours to make us aware of se­ri­ous non-com­pli­ance oc­cur­ring.”

How­ever, Mr Mclay said the coun­cil was not plan­ning to re­turn to blan­ket rou­tine he­li­copter mon­i­tor­ing.

“We’re sig­nalling that we’d like to use aerial mon­i­tor­ing where it’s re­quired. But there are other tech­nolo­gies which we can utilise to en­sure the rules are reg­u­lated and en­forced ap­pro­pri­ately.”

Mr Mclay told coun­cil­lors that over the past four years cen­tral gov­ern­ment, au­di­tors and other re­gional coun­cils had queried Waikato’s de­ci­sion to re­duce its reg­u­la­tory mon­i­tor­ing tools and had ex­pressed con­cern about the im­pact of this de­ci­sion on com­pli­ance.

Coun­cil­lors gen­er­ally agreed there was a need to speed up com­pli­ance and to pro­vide staff with more tools to achieve this. But there was dis­cus­sion around the table about what those tools should be, with con­cerns raised specif­i­cally about the use of he­li­copters.

Coun­cil­lors said they would like the coun­cil to use he­li­copters when no other tool would do the job to pro­tect the re­la­tion­ship with farm­ers.

‘They need to know their de­lib­er­ate be­hav­iour is not ac­cept­able. So there needs to be an in­creased risk of get­ting caught breach­ing the Re­source Man­age­ment Act for them to change their be­hav­iour and pri­or­i­ties. NICOLE BOTHERWAY Waikato Re­gional Coun­cil Farm­ing Ser­vices Man­ager

■ The Waikato Re­gional Plan Rules re­lat­ing to dairy ef­flu­ent can be found at www.waika­tore­gion.govt.nz/farm-ef­flu­ent-rules

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