Farmer fights court's no milking order

Tuamarina dairy farmer Philip Woolley
Tuamarina dairy farmer Philip Woolley

A dairy farmer is seeking a stay of an Environment Court order that prevents him milking at his 700-cow Marlborough farm.

The court has issued an enforcement order prohibiting re-stocking of Awarua Farm at Tuamarina for the 2014-15 milking season until an approved effluent management system is installed.

Lawyer David Clark, for farm owner Philip Woolley, said a "perfect storm" had developed that could lead to a terrible animal welfare issue.

When the matter was dealt with in the Environment Court on March 20 the cows had been pregnant, he told Justice Goddard in the High Court at Wellington yesterday. "With the benefit of hindsight everyone should have considered that," he said. "Now they are calving."

Woolley had a second, 1200-cow farm further up the Wairau Valley at Glenmae, but Marlborough District Council was trying to stop milking at both farms at the same time. The farms were the largest dairy operation in Marlborough, but because the region was not a major dairying area there was nowhere for the 1900 cows involved to go, Clark said.

Yesterday's High Court hearing was primarily an appeal seeking to have the enforcement order quashed, with the more recent request for a stay of the order also considered.

Clark said he was seeking the stay pending Justice Goddard's decision on the appeal. He also asked that the matter be sent back to the Environment Court urgently so the animal welfare issue could be addressed.

Marlborough District Council lawyer Peter Radich said there had been no disclosure to the court that there were no dairy cows about to be milked at Tuamarina, no disclosure that all the cows that had calved were being milked elsewhere.

"No disclosure of the fact that at this very time there's another proceeding in the Environment Court . . . in which the issue of the milking of all of the Woolley cows is being considered," Radich said.

"And there's been no disclosure of an affidavit sworn and filed in that proceeding by the farm manager setting out the full details of milking of all of these Woolley cows."

The cows were at various places around Marlborough and being taken to Glenmae where they were being milked, despite the order that there should be no milking of cows at Glenmae.

Justice Goddard asked if there had been an attempt to mislead the court.

"Absolutely not," Clark said.

In his opening he had said the cows were not at Tuamarina. They were all over the place.

The judge said the inference she had drawn from another affidavit was that the cows were at Tuamarina. She questioned why she was being asked to stay the Environment Court order if the cows were not at Tuamarina.

"Because they must be milked somewhere," Clark said. There was no permission to milk them at Glenmae.

Radich said Woolley and Awarua Farm had made some economic judgments, banking on being able to straighten things out through litigation, rather than engineering.

"What's happened now is that the consequences of these judgments are coming to bear and the appellants are now trying to squeeze another season out without having to bring the property up to standard," Radich said. "The strategy that's been adopted has been the wrong strategy. The only animals at Tuamarina are, in my submission, the figurative chickens coming home to roost."

Marlborough council had applied for enforcement orders before the last dairy season, which started in June 2013.

Clark said Woolley had decided cows would no longer be milked at the lowland Tuamarina farm after the end of the current season.

Woolley had a resource consent to milk cows at Tuamarina. That remained unchanged despite the Environment Court requiring the installation of a new effluent system. The Environment Court did not have the power to make the order it had made, Clark said.

Justice Goddard reserved her decision.

The Marlborough Express