Low number of dairy breaches

Nelson dairy farmers have achieved their highest effluent compliance rating, with just six sheds out of 143 in the Tasman district breaching discharge rules last season.

The latest figures shows that 94.4 per cent of farms inspected by the Tasman District Council during the 2011-12 season met regional plan and resource consent requirements. This was up on the 89.6 per cent compliance rate recorded the season before and is the highest since the council began its surveys in 2005. It is also higher than the Canterbury average of 70 per cent.

Of the six Tasman district farmers who did not comply last year, only two were judged to be significant offenders with the main issues being severe ponding of effluent and breaches of abatement notices and enforcement orders.

The council survey looks at the collection, storage and disposal of effluent and general farm management practices, but does not measure waterway quality or soils.

In her annual report to be discussed by councillors on Thursday, compliance officer Kat Bunting said compliance had continued to improve and was now at a good level.

A drier season last year had reduced ponding problems, but the improvement was mainly due to the considerable work done by farmers and the industry, particularly around Murchison where there had been a problem, to adopt better effluent discharge practices.

"Many farmers are presently in the process of either designing improved systems or actively constructing them to be ready for the 2012-13 season."

Ms Bunting said one of the two significantly non-compliant farmers was a repeat offender who had ignored an enforcement order imposed the previous season.

Despite having been prosecuted and fined in the past, the farmer "continues to show disregard or simply elects not to comply with the effluent rules."

The council would be considering whether to take further court action once it had completed an investigation, she said.

The other major transgressor was a first-time offender who had breached an abatement notice and council staff were yet to decide whether further enforcement action was warranted.

In all, the council issued six formal written warnings and one abatement notice during the year. No enforcement orders or prosecutions were initiated for offences found during 2011-12 and no-one had been fined.

Federated Farmers Golden Bay dairy chairwoman Sue Brown welcomed the continuing improvement, saying it was the result of increasing awareness, education and hard work.

"Nothing's perfect, things will happen but this is a good result."

The current wet spell which had prevented many farmers from spraying effluent onto their paddocks underlined the importance of having large enough storage ponds, she said.

Fish and Game's Nelson Marlborough manager Neil Deans said the figures showed that most farmers took their environmental responsibilities seriously but were being let down by a small minority.

He was critical of time taken to penalise persistent offenders, saying the council and Fonterra were often reluctant to take "clear and unambiguous" action.

Mr Deans also questioned the effectiveness of the council's rules, which allows effluent discharges onto land as a permitted activity. This was an outdated approach which failed to take into account the adverse effect discharges and runoff were having on several catchments in the Nelson region, including Golden Bay, he said.

Any monitoring system had to measure water quality if it was to be credible, he said.