Compliance still a concern

The Dairying and Clean Streams Accord achieved just one of its five national targets after 10 years in operation.

The Ministry for Primary Industries has just released its final report into the voluntary agreement between Fonterra and local and central government designed to improve the industry's environmental performance.

The accord expired at the end of last year and is set to be replaced by a new tougher version, covering all dairy companies and their farmer suppliers, which is expected to be in place in time for the 2013-14 dairy season.

The ministry's report shows that the only target the accord achieved was getting 90 per cent of regular stock crossings on Fonterra farms bridged or culverted, with less than 1 per cent still to be done and all regions achieving the mark.

It fell just short of getting 90 per cent of dairy cattle excluded from all but the smallest waterways, although its 87 per cent figure is questionable as it was based on what farmers said they had done. The report says a visual check showed a significantly lower level of achievement. Marlborough, Tasman and Wellington lagged well behind other regions.

More worryingly, Fonterra farms are still well away from the target of 100 per cent compliance with regional council dairy-effluent rules.

While full compliance improved slightly last year, it was still only 73 per cent, and varied widely throughout the country, prompting the report to say that "continually improving effluent compliance is a major challenge for the accord partners".

Northland (38 per cent) and Southland (45 per cent) were the worst performers. Wellington (95 per cent) and Tasman and Otago (94 per cent each) were the best.

The average level of significant non-compliance - where effluent was discharged on to land through poor disposal methods, lack of storage capacity, inadequate infrastructure to cope with increasing stock numbers and runoff from feed or standoff pads - fell from 11 per cent in 2010-11 to 10 per cent last year. Northland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Southland had the highest levels of serious problems.

"The accord partners acknowledge that full compliance is a regulatory requirement," the report says. "Nationally full compliance with dairy effluent consents has increased, but it still remains an area of significant concern.

"This level of dairy effluent non-compliance remains a major focus of collaborative efforts and investment, particularly in regions with continuing high non-compliance."

It adds that number of infringement notices increased by a weighted average of 18 per cent to 297 last year, while the number of abatement notices - issued where an offence has occurred - was down 14 per cent to 296. Prosecutions initiated last year were on a par with 2010-11 at 29.In Tasman one abatement notice and two prosecutions were initiated last year.

The accord also failed to reach its target of all farms having a nutrient management plan. While 99 per cent of farmers have taken the first step and have a nutrient budget, only 56 per cent have a plan. This was up from 46 per cent the year before.

The ministry acknowledged there was "significant room for improvement".

Another goal of fencing off 90 per cent of regionally significant wetlands bordering farms remains unmet, with only Taranaki having done so. Two others have fenced more than 50 per cent.

The report said three of 13 regional councils were still to finish defining and identifying their wetlands.

MPI resource policy director Mike Jebson said the accord had played a key role in driving an improvement in farmers' environmental performance but a number of challenges remained.