Dirty dairy farms fail to comply

Last updated 23:15 26/11/2008

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One in five Canterbury dairy farms fails to meet environmental standards for effluent disposal, a new report says.

Environment Canterbury's (ECan) annual dairy-shed effluent report found more farms fully complied with environmental standards from 39.6 per cent in 2006-07 to 45.8% in 2007-08. It also recorded an increase in the number with significant or major non-compliance problems (20%, up from 17.7% last year).

Major problems include ponding of effluent, waste being dumped into waterways or nitrogen overload.

One farmer has been fined $8500 for environmental breaches and another court case is pending.

About a third of the 696 farms monitored had minor non-compliance problems.

The report, released yesterday, said there had been little change in compliance rates for the past five years.

It said farmers learnt from their mistakes. More than 50% of properties that breached standards had mended their ways on reinspection.

However, more infringement and abatement notices had been issued, leaving ECan to ponder why offending rates had remained consistent.

ECan regulations director Kim Drummond said the council had decided to involve farmers and environmental groups in trying to solve the problem.

"We all want dairy farms to be 100% compliant with the rules, and indeed encourage them to move beyond compliance and step up to best practice. That's the ultimate gain here," he said.

Initial results from the 2008-09 survey showed similar rates of consent breaches.

"I think it might go a little deeper than saying there is a good initiative there that has yet to bear fruit," he said. "I think the challenge is to unite all these initiatives so they are all pushing in the same direction, and getting a little bit more of the jigsaw puzzle to come together on this. One thing on its own is not enough here."

The rapid growth in conversions of farms to dairying and a high staff turnover were identified in the report as two possible factors for pollution rates remaining constant.

Dairy company Fonterra discussed the problem with ECan last year and sent staff to visit the worst polluters to try to help clean up their farms.

Fonterra sustainable production general manager John Hutchings said effluent was normally irrigated on to paddocks as fertiliser.

Often the problem could be as simple as a spray machine travelling too slowly and causing waste to pool in one place rather than covering a whole paddock.

He said Fonterra's work on environmental issues had crossed over with ECan's survey period, which meant any impact would not show up until next year's survey.

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"We have a team of sustainable dairy specialists throughout New Zealand and we have just appointed another one in Canterbury as part of our commitment to get this right," Hutchings said.

Farmers' group Dairy New Zealand said the report's finding of no real progress in reducing levels of non-compliance was a big concern.

Chief executive Tim Mackle said the industry was working hard with farmers to help improve infrastructure and management techniques.

"There are some encouraging trends emerging, including the reduction in the incidence of major effluent ponding, which shows farm staff are aware of the need to check this," he said.

"Plus, the report notes that when compared nationally, Canterbury still has a low level of direct discharge to surface water occurring."

Fish and Game Nelson-Marlborough manager Neil Deans said 7.4% of all dairy farms that significantly failed to meet their obligations had not improved a year later.

Compliance with consents was a fundamental requirement to conduct any business, and the report highlighted shortcomings in current processes, he said.

 

- © Fairfax NZ News

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