A few dirty dairying farmers affecting all

HELD BACK: The small minority of dairy farmers who did not take a responsible view on caring for the environment were holding the rest of the industry back.
HELD BACK: The small minority of dairy farmers who did not take a responsible view on caring for the environment were holding the rest of the industry back.

One would have thought from the outset that It was a very brave man who entered the Lion's Den of our Waikato Dairy meeting the other week.

However, armed with his diplomacy skills, Waikato's Regional Council investigation manager Patrick Lynch managed to disarm the preconceived ideas of Lynch's lynching mob.

As he bit the bullet and successfully so, he explained the purpose of his team's role in environmental investigations across all industries the former police detective left us in no doubt that we are investigated on a level playing field with the rest of the region.

Our executive were amazed by some of the evidence that was presented, showing a minority of farmers whose level of destruction on the environment left a bitter taste in our mouths.

We all live in this community and the small few who do not take a responsible view on caring for the environment are holding us back.

It was also quickly pointed out that 0.8 per cent of dairy farmers had been prosecuted for environment breaches in the past 10 years as opposed to 50 per cent of district councils in Waikato.

This was encouraging to see a low number in farmer prosecutions, and that all organisations are equally held to account.

We have always said to the council we want to be on a level playing field with all industries in the Waikato equally judged, regardless of whether who can afford a 100 page resource consent or those who can merely afford one.

The point made here, is that the council have been very active in investigating farmers, with or without the helicopters, using google earth and neighbours to prosecute farmers.

Out of the 10 case studies presented by Lynch, nine were from ground inspections, being from neighbours who are more than likely fellow farmers.

This shows the vast majority of farmers do not tolerate poor environmental practices, animal welfare issues, or poor employment practices.

The general farming community is responsible and wants the minority, who are making us look bad, to catch up.

The biggest misconception out there is that all farmers are doing are ''environmental rapists'', with an unfair balance portrayed in the media.

The majority of New Zealand's farmers are actually outstanding custodians of the land, and are taking things into their own hands by holding their own to account.

We are also innovating, and creating ways to ensure that farmers are easily able to achieve and meet today's environmental practices.

An example of this is the Effluent Warrant of Fitness, which assesses farms are farming within their limits and meeting the rules imposed on the industry.

Waikato farmers need to be congratulated on the environmental performance shown in the last five years, through Clean Streams Accord, in fencing off streams and wetlands, planting natives, investing in effluent management, and so on.

All this has required a large amount of capital and time to implement, and in some farmers cases the capital invested would be the equivalent of a nice house down river road in Hamilton. Not bemoaned, just important to point out that there is significant investment going on.

I would also like to congratulate the council who voted in favour of an effluent review. We look forward to working with councillors, staff and the public on getting clear precise rules for farmers to follow.

* Chris Lewis is Federated Farmers Waikato provincial president.

Waikato Times