Dairy intensification 'killing NZ fast and dirty'

00:20, Nov 25 2013

Another day. Another dire report for dairying and its impact on the environment.

Last week the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment released her latest report 'Water quality in New Zealand: Land use and nutrient pollution'.

To say it's negative is an understatement.

It seriously hammers the amount of nitrates and phosphorous entering our waterways, and argues that New Zealanders will soon be forced to choose between the environment and dairy farming.

Dr Wright predicts the situation will get even worse in the near future, with Canterbury and Southland likely to be the hardest hit.

A few hours after its release Environment Minister Amy Adams and the Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy put out a joint media release. Short version.

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Trust us, we've got it all under control.

"The Government has a package of reform that will lead to more productive and sustainable use of our freshwater resource, and help alleviate the concerns raised in the report", said Amy Adams.

Subtext?

Irrigation dams and lots of them. Keep growing the dairy business and tell only good news stories for as long as it's necessary to keep the money flowing.

Fish & Game didn't hold back.

"This report vindicates Fish & Game's strong stance through its 'Dirty Dairying' campaign against the industry and the urgent need to clean up its act," said chief executive Bryce Johnson.

"It confirms our experience of the past and our concerns for the future - that even with good management practice, including mitigation of nutrient loss from farmland and a conservative analysis from reputable scientists, further declines in water quality from dairy intensification will continue if dairy expansion is not limited".

"More importantly though, it serves as a stark warning that the nation is at a crossroads: we can either continue with the Government's and primary production sector's agenda of doubling agricultural output by 2025 - completely wrecking the environment, our waterways, our estuaries and beaches, our tourism sector, our international brand, and the Kiwi way of life in the process - or we can look at smarter ways to grow the economy".

At the time of writing I had yet to see a response from Federated Farmers but you can bet it will be factually vacuous and blaming of everything, except farming.

I wonder what the Minister of Conservation makes of it all. He'll no doubt stay as quiet as a Buddhist monk on a silent retreat. Which, for Nick Smith, is quite a feat.

My thoughts too are rather predictable. Indeed repetitive. But at least I'm consistent. How many times, and in how many ways does it need to be said? Dairy intensification is killing our country.

Not slowly, not gently but fast and dirty.

This Government condones it, smooths the way even. They dress it up, call it collaboration but it's still a turkey. Just a turkey in a pretty dress.

One recent "collaboration" was called the Land and Water Forum. Various interest groups were asked to participate and, in good faith, they did.

Out of it came a recommendation to set up a National Objectives Framework for freshwater (NOF). NOF's purpose is to guide water objective settings and allocation by regional councils.

Frameworks are always a good idea but if the foundations are shaky from the get go there's really no point. You end up making policy that is doomed to fail.

Welcome to NOF.

The framework is now out for consultation but how much the Government will listen, when they consistently act deaf, is anybody's guess.

There is much to criticise. The mere fact that among its proponents are IrrigationNZ and DairyNZ tells you loud and clear that it's a sop to industry.

Not only are its objectives flimsy, it completely disregards many crucial measures of the health of lakes, rivers and streams including invertebrate and sediment levels.

Forget the health of the 10 per cent of wetlands New Zealand has remaining because wetlands are simply not included in the framework. I wonder why?

Freshwater scientists are lining up to question its science and motivations.

New Zealand Freshwater Sciences Society president David Hamilton said the report stressed the dangers posed by the business- as-usual approach could have on waterways.

Forest and Bird advocate Kevin Hackwell said the projections indicated swimming and fishing in many of the country's lakes and rivers could become a thing of the past.

"The Government needs to accept that spending $400 million on building irrigation schemes like the one planned for Ruataniwha is only going to make things worse," he said.

But this is our Government's stupid plan. Ignore the signs, the science - unless it's their 'science'- and deny a breakdown of our waterways is imminent.

Yet, come hell or high water, and preferably contained within a dam, this is the way it will likely go.

* Rachel Stewart comes from a farming background in Taranaki, been involved in Federated Farmers and is now focused on environmental issues.

Taranaki Daily News