Dirty water dairying's 'own goal'

Last updated 12:53 11/03/2014
Mike Joy

RETHINK NEEDED: "You are never going to fix these things up by planting a few trees," Mike Joy says.

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The dairy industry's expansion has to be stopped if farmers are to have any hope of reducing their environmental footprint, freshwater scientist Dr Mike Joy says.

If this occurred then all the mitigation programmes used by the industry would then make a difference, Joy told a Waikato Federated Farmers dairy section meeting in Hamilton yesterday.

Waikato farmers could play their part by lobbying local government to halt further conversions.

"Then what you are doing will start to have some real effect," he said.

It infuriated him that, after he worked with farmers to improve their environmental record, a dairy conversion nearby was then allowed to proceed.

"All that work you have done just goes down the road."

Lake and river cleanups that were funded by government and councils around the country were "a have".

The source of the problem - dairying's expansion - had to be stopped, Joy said.

"You are never going to fix these things up by planting a few trees. As long as nutrients are pouring into these systems then no amount of throwing money is going to fix them up."

He said New Zealand had to rethink its ideas around the economy. Dairying was only the backbone of the New Zealand economy if its effects were not considered.

Joy said New Zealand was no longer the lowest-cost dairy producer, which made its clean-green image more important, but was also what the country risked losing.

"It's going to come back to the preference of milk coming from New Zealand and that's when we have ‘own goaled', because we would have destroyed that clean-green image in the process."

Joy said it was a myth that irrigation and dams would improve water quality and mitigate climate change. Dam projects required large sums of money and necessitated conversions to dairying and intensive farming to pay for them.

"You don't have extra or spare water, the requirement for water ramps up at the rate that the dam does. This idea that it improves water quality makes no sense at all."

Joy said he was outspoken about issues around water quality because he had quickly realised that he could end up having a career cataloguing the decline of freshwater in New Zealand. "As a Kiwi, I wasn't prepared to do that."

He said the Ministry for the Environment was doing farmers a disservice by relaxing the Resource Management Act and nutrient limits.

The collaborative approach to deciding rules around nutrient limits would not improve water quality because it resulted in compromised standards and it did not address scientific reality. "You can't collaborate away a reality."

He disagreed with Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Jan Wright's view that the public would have to choose between the economy and the environment: "I think that's so false. You can't have a strong economy if you've stuffed the environment."

Joy also urged Waikato farmers to soil-test their paddocks for cadmium.

Fifty per cent of Waikato soils exceed a one-part-per-million limit for cadmium levels, which is the contaminated-site limit. 

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- Manawatu Standard


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