Greenpeace's latest campaign to stop 'big irrigation' and cut cow numbers

Plans to extract water from the source of Te Waikoropupu Springs aim to increase cow numbers in Golden Bay.
ALDEN WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ

Plans to extract water from the source of Te Waikoropupu Springs aim to increase cow numbers in Golden Bay.

OPINION: Dairy NZ's failed attempt to shutdown the Greenpeace dirty rivers TV ad is yet another example of a desperate lobby group fiddling while Rome burns.

By spending considerable resources and time ignoring the science and denying that industrial dairying is polluting waterways - they continue to prevaricate as our water gets dirtier.

Sixty-two per cent of our monitored rivers are unsafe to swim in - and that is clearly unacceptable to the majority of New Zealanders.

Revelations that the dairy industry wants to extract water from the source of the world famous Pupu springs to increase cow numbers in Golden Bay is a clear example of how far the expansionist dairying lobby is prepared to go.

READ MORE:
* NZ's largest freshwater springs 'under threat' from irrigation

* DairyNZ drops its ASA appeal on Greenpeace's dirty dairying advert

To pollute Te Waikoropupu springs, a national and international treasure for a handful of landowners, is surely the act of extremists.

Greenpeace is releasing a new video it says will help people understand the science behind the campaign to stop big ...
KIRK HARGREAVES/FAIRFAX NZ

Greenpeace is releasing a new video it says will help people understand the science behind the campaign to stop big irrigation and cut cow numbers.

A complete lack of willingness by Dairy NZ to take meaningful action on this issue of polluted waterways has left the industry wide open to public outrage over the poor state of our waterways.

This attitude by the supposed "leaders" of this industry has left dairy farmers without the necessary information they need to make the systemic changes needed to save our rivers.

We welcome the recent overtures from DairyNZ to work with them on this problem, but we will continue to pressure them to clean up their act on behalf of all New Zealanders who want a better future.

The dairy farming community is now in desperate need of good leadership to drive the necessary change away from the polluting industrial dairy model to an ecological farming model that looks after our rivers.

We can only hope that Dairy NZ's recent backdown signals a willingness to finally step up to that leadership challenge and help farmers with this vital transition.

Unfortunately, judging by their refusal to accept the ASA's earlier ruling that the ad was truthful and not misleading, it doesn't seem all that likely.

Dairy NZ is intent on putting out the message out that Greenpeace is misleading the public by successfully drawing attention to the fact that industrial dairying is polluting waterways.

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The Ministry for the Environment, the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric research and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the environment have all also drawn the clear link between industrial dairying and water pollution.

A wealth of evidence from various reports can be found in our response to Dairy NZ's initial complaint about our ad.

It's not just the water issue that Dairy NZ is prevaricating about. They have done little to address the issue of dairy debt ballooning out of control and putting extreme financial strain on farming families around the country.

Dairy farmers have come under pressure to buy more and more fertilisers, expensive irrigation equipment and supplementary feed for their ever growing herds. The Reserve Bank now estimates that dairy debt has tripled in the last 13 years to $38 billion.

We've also seen coverage of a seventh generation dairy farmer being forced off the land because he was convinced to buy into an uneconomic and expensive irrigation scheme.

Ecological farming is an innovative model of farming that uses diversity and natural systems to boost productivity without the need for destructive chemical fertilisers, big irrigation and other industrial methods.

It's a model of dairying which requires fewer cows and fewer chemicals to produce high value environmentally sound products and resilient farms.

A report by AgResearch that compared different dairy farming models confirmed that the low input, low intensity farms which didn't use any chemical nitrogen fertiliser and kept lower numbers of cows per hectare produced the most milk per cow per year. This model was the best environmental performer and was also the least financially risky and actually more profitable when milk-price payouts were low.

Rather than advocate for this model, DairyNZ has actively supported plans to build think-big irrigation schemes which if built would allow the number of dairy cows in the New Zealand countryside to spiral out of control.

There are already too many cows for our waterways to cope with. Overstocking and farming dairy cows on marginal land drives nitrogen pollution into our waterways.

This type of pollution cannot be mitigated away by fences and riverside tree planting. The only option is to reduce cow numbers, and fast.

Dairy NZ has extended an invitation to Greenpeace to work with them yet still refuse to acknowledge that we've got a serious problem and planned irrigation schemes are set to make it far worse.

Greenpeace is happy to work with them but we're not going to sit around in a boardroom compromising while irrigation schemes get built and more industrial dairy farms follow.

We have already been visiting and talking with farmers who are finding innovative ways to build more resilient and environmentally friendly farms. These farmers are the true leaders and champions of farming in New Zealand and we hope to work with them into the future.

Off the back of the last rivers ad, Greenpeace is releasing a new video to help people understand the science behind the campaign to stop big irrigation and cut cow numbers.

The animation is entitled "Mildred and the piss-apocalypse" and explains how cow urine travels down through the soil into the groundwater poisoning rivers and aquifers with nitrates.

It also explains how ecological farming works for farmers and for the environment.

Our video calls on New Zealanders to join the the fight to stop these schemes and to support an ecological farming future because that is the only thing that will save our rivers.

- Genevieve Toop is Greenpeace NZ's sustainable agriculture campaigner

 - Stuff

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