District councils to monitor land farms

Livestock will no longer be allowed to graze stock on land previously used as a landfarm until given the all clear the land is safe.

In a tightening of rules the site will need to be made secure, a process being nicknamed "locking the gate",  to ensure stock cannot get on the land until the district council agrees to a change of use, New Plymouth District Council senior planning adviser Ralph Broad said.

The policy plugs a gap which saw farmers returning stock to former landfarm paddocks before the land had been tested.

Taranaki Regional Council tested the land when the consent to allow landfarming was surrendered, but stock was being put on the land before the process was complete and the TRC had no powers to stop them, Broad said.

"They (TRC) can only control the discharge of the product to the land, not the land use.  So, farmers were stocking land and cows were eating grass and no one knew whether the grass was suitable or not."

Landfarming is where drilling waste is spread over marginal land and the microbial population in the soil breaks down the waste and new pasture is sown on top.

In 2013 Fonterra decided not to collect milk from any new landfarms, despite saying it was 100 per cent confident there were no food- safety issues from cows grazing on the waste.

Broad said the new rules had actually been in place since 2012, but no one "clicked" they could apply to landfarms.

Ministry of Primary Industries formed a working party to look into concerns raised by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Jan Wright, who said the situation had to be resolved, Broad said.

Though he wasn't a member of the working party, Broad started thinking about whether the National Environmental Standard for Assessing and Managing Contaminants in Soil to Protect Human Health would apply to land farms.

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"I did some investigation and while the working party was looking at new things it seems this gave the necessary tools for the issue to be addressed. Everyone agrees it does apply to land farms and to mixed bury cover."

It also applies to situations such as old petrol stations pulling out tanks and old motor vehicle workshops, he said. 

"Any piece of land where activities may result in contamination requires the process to be gone through to change the land use."

Green Party energy spokesperson Gareth Hughes it's great to see the council stepping up and taking leadership to protect New Zealanders and the clean, green brand. 

"Our brand advantage is that our milk is clean and green. We need to take all steps to ensure our milk stays that way." 

The Green Party has advocated for more than two years to keep livestock off farms where oil and gas waste has been spread, he said.

"Mixing oil and gas industry waste products with our food production is an accident waiting to happen."

Taranaki environmental activist Sarah Roberts said she was relieved to hear existing regulations will be enforced and cows will no longer be grazed on land farms before they are cleared of contaminants.

"I have always felt it is highly risky we should be allowing these types of industries to operate on our dairy farms."

 - Stuff

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