Councils too tough over effluent, say farmers

TERRI RUSSELL
Last updated 05:00 07/11/2012

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A group of Southland farmers are taking action over what they say is the "draconian" way the Southland and Otago regional councils handle effluent discharge into waterways.

The farmers met Deputy Prime Minister and Clutha-Southland MP Bill English in Gore about two weeks ago to discuss the way both regional councils manage water contamination caused by farm runoff.

The meeting was before a series of articles in the Southland Times that have brought the operations of Environment Southland into question.

A letter was sent to Mr English before the meeting outlining the farmers' concerns and asking for help.

There had been an alarming increase in effluent-related prosecutions over the last year relating to incidents which were mostly unintentional, extremely minor and fixed immediately by farmers, the letter said.

Farmers, who in most cases asked the councils for help, got no support and were instead prosecuted.

"Why is it not possible for farmers and the councils to work together to improve farming practices on a consultative basis without the need to resort to prosecutions for the first time or minor offences?" the letter said.

Inspectors have been seen taking photos and flying over properties "looking for any breach possible," the letter said.

Local councils had moved from being a pragmatic, solutions-focused body to a vindictive, prosecutorial body, it said.

The farmers asked that the focus of local councils be shifted to help them comply, rather than be prosecuted.

"We are the backbone of a national economy and we strongly feel we are being hung out to dry by the very bodies set up to assist us," the letter said.

One of the farmers said there was a need for goals that were achievable for farmers and regional councils.

"We want goalposts that are set in the field; we don't want them to keep shifting."

Environment Southland spokeswoman Michele Poole was contacted late yesterday afternoon and indicated the council needed more time to respond to other questions but said it was incorrect to say that farmers got no support.

The council has dairy support officers and a range of support, liaison and pre-education programmes available online, she said.

Mr English could not be reached for comment.

terri.russell@stl.co.nz

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