Survey doesn't tell full story, says dairy boss

TIM CRONSHAW
Last updated 05:00 15/03/2014

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Dairy farmers remain irate about a Fish & Game survey portraying them in a bad light environmentally.

Farmers believe the public attitude survey failed to weigh up the investment and work they are doing with councils to manage their environmental impact, or recognise that they are addressing the problem.

The survey of about 3100 people, commissioned by Fish & Game, found 70 per cent believed dairy farming expansion had made water quality worse than it was 20 years ago, and more than a third believed the country was too reliant on the dairy industry.

More than half believed dairying's poor performance was affecting New Zealand's global reputation and brand, and nearly 90 per cent supported waterway polluters being made accountable for their restoration.

Federated Farmers Dairy chairman Willy Leferink said farmers recognised that any future dairy investment should be totally sustainable, and had put in a lot of work and investment to make it work.

Pressure was going on farmers who were not complying with regulations, and farmers were working closely with councils to comply with regulations and meet new plans, he said.

"Fonterra people who haven't fenced their waterways or met the conditions of the plan will, as of next season, not have their milk picked up. That's how serious we are with the issue, and we want to be good citizens."

Leferink said the "cheap shot" by Fish & Game chief executive Bryce Johnson had been unnecessary.

"We respect the results - don't get me wrong - because we can learn from every survey, but it's a bit unbalanced, and we are trying everything under the sun to get these people to [follow rules], and there are magic stories out there of what is being achieved.

"We are happy to work with Bryce, but it has to be constructive, and I don't like people throwing rocks from the sideline. We prefer to work with people on the sideline."

DairyNZ chief executive Dr Tim Mackle said dairy farmers had boosted their environmental investment by 61 per cent this season, to $11 million a year, through their levy contribution to DairyNZ, and were taking their responsibilities seriously.

He said it was not surprising that the survey painted a negative picture of public attitudes to dairy farming, as the survey work was not particularly rigorous.

"They are playing politics in an election year, and dairy farmers are the convenient football to kick around.

"I think New Zealanders understand that dairying is important to the success of the New Zealand economy, and that dairy farmers are an important part of our community. They just want to see the industry acting responsibly and managing its impact."

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Fonterra dairy farmers have spent about $100m to $200m on fencing 22,000 kilometres of waterways around the country, at a cost of about $5000 to $10,000 a kilometre.

Farmers are paying $50,000 to $250,000 to upgrade their effluent systems, $3m on nutrient management plans, and $16.5m on consultants to advise them on these plans. Many have also planted trees and created wetlands on their farms.

Mackle said dairy farmers, through DairyNZ, had partnered with councils on more than $4.2m worth of projects last year, including $1m with Environment Canterbury and $100,000 with the West Coast Regional Council. IrrigationNZ chief executive Andrew Curtis said that while he agreed with some of the survey results, it had chosen to focus on the negative, and only a minority of Kiwis held views that reflected a desire for no more development.

Seventy-one per cent of Kiwis questioned for an independent poll commissioned by IrrigationNZ this year supported irrigation as long as it was sustainable.

- The Press

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