Effluent checks stress linked to rural suicides

Dairy farmers can cull Waikato Regional Council helicopter inspections of their farms from their list of concerns - for the next four months at least.

At its meeting yesterday, and after mulling over the issue at length, the council opted to halt its dairy-effluent inspection flights while a comprehensive study is conducted on whether it is the best means of keeping farm effluent out of the region's waterways.

The council will establish a working party with nominated representatives from the dairy industry and that group will be charged with determining whether to keep inspecting farms by chopper.

The flights are a much less time- and labour-consuming means of checking for effluent ponding or spillover on farms than manual, on-site inspections.

A council committee meeting earlier this month was told in no uncertain terms by farmer groups that chopper inspections were a source of high anxiety for farmers, who were already burdened with many other stress-inducing requirements.

However, the issue of whether the "eye-in-the-sky" inspections are a source of psychological terror for farmers became a moot point at the meeting, with councillors each seeming to have their own take on the matter.

Cr Stuart Husband, a dairy farmer, was adamant they were unneeded and thought they might be a contributing factor to the high rate of rural suicides.

The chopper inspections were often conducted during the height of the milking season - the busiest time of year for dairy farmers - and he had first-hand experience of being subjected to first an air-based and then a personal inspection of his farm.

"The chopper came over and ... then the guy puts his badge in my face.

"It's the straw that breaks the camel's back. At that time of year we are at the wall," Husband said.

Cr Bob Simcock was not so sure the helicopters were as bad as what some farmers made out, and said other things such as meetings with bank managers and paying bills were likely to be much worse experiences.

"There are lots of stresses in life. I take real discomfort at the connection of this issue with rural suicide.

"The tradeoff is we go and knock on hundreds of doors and spend a couple of hours on each farm. I don't buy it that a helicopter flying over for a short time is going to be more stressful than that.

"I think the idea of helicopters as a stresser has been overdeveloped dramatically," Simcock said.

Cr Stu Kneebone said stopping helicopter inspections would allow dirty dairy farmers to get away with polluting the environment more easily and it would also be a disservice to the ones who did comply with the council's regulations, often at a cost of thousands of dollars.

Waikato Times