Farmers spend big to manage lagoon

Waituna farmers say they have spent more than $1 million on improving their practices to assist the catchment's threatened lagoon and plan to spend $3m more.

At Environment Southland's environmental management committee meeting last week, Dairy farmer Graeme McKenzie and Ewen Pirie, from the Waituna Control Association, gave an update on farmers' efforts to help prevent the lagoon "flipping" into an algae-dominated state.

Mr McKenzie, who farms in the upper reaches of the catchment, said $1m had been invested in new effluent management systems and smaller water quality measures such as riparian planting and staff training.

This added up to 70 per cent of the farm management recommendations made in the Waituna Action Plan produced by farmers last year, he said. It was important for farmers to protect the lagoon to secure the future of their business.

The situation had also given them an opportunity to look closely at their business practices, with measures to protect the lagoon a hot topic in community discussions, he said.

It would need another $3m of investment for the rest of the farm management recommendations to be implemented, he said. This was mainly effluent system upgrades for 30 farms, which are the most expensive part of the plan.

Mr Pirie said council staff were of high quality and their relationship with farmers was good.

Dairy New Zealand catchment engagement leader Julia Christie said there had also been progress on introducing sustainable milking plans for farms in the area.

Twenty-four farms had so far brought them in, she said.

Council director of environmental management Warren Tuckey said the report was positive.

"It's good to see the farmers collectively in an action plan. We need to work with them even more to add value."

He said relationships between the Waituna farmers and council were much improved. "Our staff have got a lot of credibility now."

The lagoon was opened on October 30 after heavy rainfall in preceding weeks threatened to flood farmland. It is expected to close again within a week, the committee was told.

Nitrogen levels spiked after the spring rainfall, but were lower in July and August as Southland experienced a relatively dry winter.

The Southland Times