The unlawful discharging of dairy cow effluent into waterways or on to land has taken its toll on the environment, on farmers and on regional councils.
Even the president of Federated Farmers, Bruce Wills, admits new figures obtained by The Dominion Post make for bad reading. But he says the worst is behind us.
The number of prosecutions and abatement and infringement notices handed out has at least dropped, and Mr Wills vows the industry will lift its game.
"My sincere hope is that if you look at these numbers in another two to three years they will be significantly down.
"We absolutely acknowledge the effect dairying is having on the environment and there are some areas that have not been managed as well as they could have. We need to front-foot this issue and we need to lift our game."
Figures obtained from the 17 regional councils and unitary authorities reveal that since July 1, 2008, there have been 151 prosecutions involving more than 300 charges against 198 companies or individuals for unlawful discharges of dairy effluent affecting land or water.
Three entities were prosecuted twice: the Crafars' company Hillside Ltd, Awarua Farms Ltd and Philip Woolley.
Every council provided details of the parties prosecuted and their sentences, except Otago Regional Council, which refused to supply the information as it could not be sure it was "unequivocally accurate".
Environment Court-imposed fines collected from offending parties totalled at least $3,260,825.
A further 13 individuals have received community work sentences totalling 1650 hours. Two received sentences of community detention of three and six months.
For lesser offences involving dairy effluent discharges, councils have issued 1698 abatement notices and 1564 infringement notices.
Abatement notices require someone to stop any activity that contravenes the Resource Management Act, a resource consent or a council plan. Infringement notices impose an instant fine of $300 to $1000.
Prosecutions are taken only in the most serious cases, after councils have weighed various factors, including the actual and potential effects of the discharge, whether it was deliberate, the attitude of the offender, profits made from the offending and the efforts made to clean up or remedy after the discharge.
Usually 90 per cent of any fine imposed will go to the prosecuting council.
The highest fine was $120,000 handed down to Potae and van der Poel Ltd on eight charges of discharging effluent to land and water on three separate farms in 2010. The company was prosecuted by West Coast Regional Council.
Owner Mary-Ann Potae said the fine had a profound impact on her and her partner, Arno van der Poel.
"It was one of the defining moments in our life. Certainly not something we would want to repeat. Our reputations were very important to us and it's been damaged. You can't regain that," Ms Potae said.
Ms Potae said the pair had been held responsible for the activities of sharemilkers who received sentences of community work.
The number of convictions fell from 51 in 2008-09 to 18 in the year to date. Abatement notices and infringement notices have also decreased, from 537 to 329 and 500 to 330.
Mr Wills admitted the numbers were high and said "the whole dairy effluent environmental footprint issue has been under far more scrutiny over the past few years than any time in our history".
He put the high offending rate down to councils taking a more vigilant approach in recent years and the "explosion in dairy farming" that has seen dairy cow numbers balloon from 3.4million to 6.1million in the past 20 years.
Fish & Game chief executive Bryce Johnson said water quality in lowland areas continued to decline and "after all these years of the issues around dairying and the environment the numbers are still very disappointing".
Mr Johnson said the agriculture sector needed to publicly commit to "mandatory, environmentally sustainable, best on-farm practice" with regular published audits.
It should also be dealing with its own poor performers rather than leaving it to ratepayer-funded regional councils.
The Worst Offenders:
The 10 highest individual fines in New Zealand for unlawful dairy effluent discharges.
$120,000 - Potae and van der Poel Ltd on eight charges of unlawful effluent discharges and breaching abatement notices on three farms. Sentenced April 2010, West Coast Regional Council.
$110,000 - Talisker Farms Co Ltd on five charges of unlawful discharge of dairy shed effluent. Sentenced December 2010, Environment Southland.
$94,000 - Crichton Dairy Farms Ltd on three charges of discharging effluent on to land, causing ponding, and discharging dairy effluent on to land which may have entered water. Sentenced September 2010, Otago Regional Council.
$65,000 - Hillside Ltd on four charges of discharging effluent to land or water. Sentenced February 2010, Waikato Regional Council.
$62,000 - (reuced from $70,000 on appeal) Terence Yates on three charges of discharging effluent to land or water. Sentenced February 2010, Taranaki Regional Council.
$60,000 - Murray Andrews on two charges of discharging effluent and silage leachate to land and water. Sentenced July 2009, Taranaki Regional Council.
$60,000 - Trevor Jane on four charges of discharging effluent to land and water. Sentenced August 2008, Taranaki Regional Council.
$60,000 - Kevin Belling on three charges of discharging dairy effluent and one of putting dead stock in water.
(Rhonda Belling fined $6000 on same charges.) Sentenced June 2011, Environment Southland.
$54,000 - Mervyn Pinny on 13 charges of discharging effluent to water and land and breaching an abatement notice. Sentenced May 2011, Northland Regional Council.
$52,000 - Summit Dairying Ltd on three charges of discharging effluent to land. Sentenced September 2010, Otago Regional Council.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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