Farmers cleaning up dirty dairying

MARTY SHARPE
Last updated 05:01 28/07/2014

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Dairy farmers appear to be cleaning up their act, with fewer farms prosecuted for dirty dairying this year than previously.

Figures obtained by the The Dominion Post reveal the 17 regional councils successfully prosecuted 21 dairy effluent offences in the year to July 1, resulting in fines of $847,600.

This is the lowest number of convictions in recent years, and is less than half those of 2008-09 or 2009-10.

The figures were obtained under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act.

On the downside, the number of abatement notices and infringement issued climbed slightly on last year, from 290 to 303 and 221 to 253 respectively. This is still a significant decrease from the 2008-09 year, when there were 49 prosecutions and 537 abatement notices and 500 infringement notices.

Federated Farmers president William Rolleston said the organisation was happy to see the industry's "legal footprint" was improving.

"While 21 prosecutions is 21 too many, we need to remember that there are some 12,000 dairy herds in New Zealand.

"It affirms our view that there is a genuine change of culture in farming. A decade ago the main topic would be stocking rates but today it is dominated by environmental factors.

"When you've got weather-beaten dairy farmers in their late 50s comparing notes on riparian plantings and ground sensors, you know there's a cultural change afoot."

"We also need to be realistic that these numbers will oscillate and some years will be better than others, but the overall trend is positive," Rolleston said.

"We are also seeing the courts taking a much tougher line, with the average fine growing substantially as each season passes. Clearly, the courts take the view that there is plenty of support there from not just us, but from DairyNZ, dairy processors, consultants and even some councils.

"After some years of tension, we are seeing councils communicating better with farmers, and this has made a substantial difference to compliance."

Fish & Game chief executive Bryce Johnson welcomed the lower prosecution figure, but said "we have to be aware that even just one offence can cause huge damage, can completely ruin a stream".

He cited the the case of Northland farmer Craig Roberts, who was fined a record $137,750 last year.

Bryce said the group remained concerned at the variance in monitoring regimes between councils.

Abatement notices require a person to stop any activity contravening the Resource Management Act, resource consent or council plan. Infringement notices impose an instant fine of $300 to $1000.

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Otago Regional Council had the highest number of prosecutions, with seven.

Taranaki and Northland regional councils issued far more abatement and infringement notices than any other councils.

BY THE NUMBERS

Year Abatement notices Infringement notices Completed prosecutions Fines (from prosecutions)

2008-09: 537 500 47 $592,626 (*doesn't include all Otago fines)

2009-10: 445 394 49 $1,144,274

2010-11: 387 340 32 $1,211,300

2011-12: 335 346 25 $859,000

2012-13: 290 221 34 $1,230,614

2013-14: 303 253 21 $847,600

- The Dominion Post

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