New dairy waterways accord draws mixed reaction

PETER WATSON
Last updated 14:54 16/07/2013

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A new dairy industry accord designed to clean up waterways has been hailed by the Tasman District Council and farmers but drawn only lukewarm support from environmental groups.

The new accord sets national environmental benchmarks for dairy farming covering stock exclusion from waterways and riparian, effluent, nutrient and water use management. It also sets out new industry standards for conversions of land to dairying.

Most of the nation's 13,000 dairy farmers are covered by the accord, which has buy-in from Fonterra, Open Country, Tatua, Synlait and Miraka and industry body DairyNZ. Federated Farmers and regional councils, including the Tasman District Council have signed on as "friends".

Tasman Mayor Richard Kempthorne said it was an excellent mechanism through which to make real environmental improvements in a way that did not make it too difficult for farmers or bankrupt them.

As a member of the Land and Water Forum, he favoured the carrot-and-stick approach whereby the majority who met council rules and industry standards benefited from less compliance and the few who struggled or ignored the requirements faced firmer action and penalties.

"I've always been very supportive of the dairy industry applying best practice rather than taking a heavy-handed approach."

But Fish & Game Nelson Marlborough manager Neil Deans said the accord was a "mixed blessing" that did not contain enough positives for his group to sign up to. "It's a pass mark but only just."

It was good that riparian buffers were now included, nutrient use and leaching would be better recorded, and progress would be independently audited.

However, waterways under a metre wide were still excluded and some of the dates for key targets were less rigorous than under the original accord with Fonterra, which achieved just one of five targets in 10 years. The deadlines were pushed out to accommodate other dairy companies but this was a lame excuse because they had had plenty of time to get their suppliers up to speed.

It was disappointing the accord was not mandatory but relied on dairy companies to enforce and they had not spelt out what sanctions they would impose for breaches, Mr Deans said. It was time they withheld milkfat payouts or refused to collect milk.

The last-minute withdrawal of Westland Milk Products as a partner to the accord was also a blow as it had suppliers in the Maruia area.

Although the new accord was heading in the right direction, progress was far too slow and the public expected more when the industry was still expanding, he said.

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Federated Farmers Nelson spokesman Martin O'Connor said Fish & Game was never happy and ignored the fact that farmers had spent huge amounts on environmental compliance in recent years.

Like many other Fonterra suppliers he had been busy fencing waterways, including drains, which the company had said must be done by the end of the year.

As well as Fonterra introducing tougher conditions of supply, which farmers had to comply with or risk not having their milk being picked up, the council had also tightened its rules, he said.

The accord was a good step forward and better than imposing inflexible regulations.

"Farmers aren't here to wreck the environment, but it's hard to farm green when you are in the red."

This season's drought had capped off a tough few years for many Nelson farmers and this made it difficult to find the money to upgrade their facilities to meet the new requirements, he said.

WHAT THE NEW TARGETS ARE

■ 90 per cent of all permanent waterways over 1-metre wide and 30-centimetres deep fenced off from stock by May 31, 2014; 100 per cent exclusion by May 31, 2017; 100 per cent exclusion from significant wetlands by May 31, 2014. The original Fonterra accord, which ran out last year, achieved 87 per cent, just short of its target of 90 per cent.

■ 100 per cent of regular stock-crossing points either bridged or culverted by May 31, 2018. The original accord achieved 99 per cent, well above its target of 90 per cent.

■ 100 per cent of farms with accord waterways have a riparian management plan by May 31, 2020. Planting is to be completed by 2030.

■ Data collected for nutrient management and performance benchmarked for 85 per cent of dairy farms by November 30, 2014; 100 per cent of dairy farms by November 30, 2015. Under the original accord, 99 per cent of farmers had a nutrient budget but only 56 per cent had a plan when all were supposed to have one.

■ Every farm to have an effluent system capable of being compliant with regional council rules and/or their resource consent 365 days a year, with all to be assessed by May 31, 2014. Just 74 per cent achieved full compliance under the old accord which had set a 100 per cent target.

■ 85 per cent of farms must install water meters by 2020.

■ New dairy farms must comply with an agreed set of standards from 2013-14 season; good practice obligations published by May 31, 2014.

- Nelson

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