It's time the farmers lifted their game

Last updated 12:15 19/12/2012

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OPINION: The Southland branch of Road Transport Association NZ area executive Alan Cooper gives its perspective on the issues arising before and after the Environment Southland and police Gypsy Day operation.

It is widely recognised that with the dramatic increase in dairying in Southland something needed to be done to minimise the stock effluent spillage from trucks onto the roads.

The National Stock Effluent Working Group was set up in 1997 by the road controlling authorities to develop practices and solutions to reduce the amount of effluent falling from stock trucks onto New Zealand roads.

The discharge of stock effluent on roads is not someone else's problem; it is the responsibility of everybody involved to play their part.

What the local transport operators have done so far: Most operators have installed holding tanks or other containment devices on their trucks and trailers at a considerable cost. Having installed the holding tanks the next step was for the installation of public dumping stations by the regulatory authorities, along with the adequate preparation of the livestock by the farmers. Well, the transport operators have been still waiting for this to happen - although it should be noted that some farmers are very good at preparing their stock prior to transport. So the following operators - Ryal Bush Transport (Ryal Bush), D T King (Otautau and Pukemaori), Transport Services Ltd (Wairio), Northern Transport Holdings (Lumsden and Mossburn), Hokonui Rural Transport (Gore), Scullys Transport (Centre Bush) - in conjunction with Environment Southland made their facilities available for the dumping of effluent during the transportation of cows to and from grazing.

Environment Southland waived the consent fees for these facilities and paid to have the solids removed from some of these sites, plus offered $500 per site per year. Most carriers did not charge the $500 as a sign of goodwill. Some sites were made available in 2009 and 2010 and all in 2011.

To further ascertain what progress was being made regarding the establishment of dump stations in Southland, the Southland Stock Effluent Working Group met at Environment Southland on April 28 2011.

Discussions were held on preparing stock for transport, dump stations and compliance monitoring 2011.

An Environment Southland compliance officer present at the above meeting advised there was some non-compliance last year and he would like to follow up with some farmers.

The same officer noted that, from a compliance point of view, they need to target the people who offend. But, he stressed that there is not a large amount of effluent involved - it's a small amount over a large area. The effluent that is going into the stormwater system off the roads is probably negligible, so there is not a huge pollution issue.

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A senior sergeant from the police, also at the meeting, advised the checks would be carried out again, and that the purpose was to find any recidivist farmers.

RTANZ area manager Dave Potter, who attended the meeting, reported in the May 2011 newsletter:

"The NZ Police and Environment Southland compliance officers will be out on May 31 and June 1 to monitor the effluent spillages from trucks. These investigations are primarily focused on gathering information on whether stock being transported by road has been stood off green feed and for how long.

"The police have reminded us that this exercise is ‘purely an information-gathering exercise over the two days and no enforcement proceedings will follow while stock are being transported, so your drivers have nothing to fear in that regard'.

"But, it would be wise to remind your stock drivers to act responsibly when carrying stock and where they drop the effluent."

Then after the sting/survey Environment Southland issued approximately 18 infringement notices to both drivers and owners of the trucks involved. This was concerning considering the above two statements, along with the fact that the drivers were not given any documentation at the time of stopping. These infringements arrived some five weeks after the alleged effluent spillages.

After trying to no avail to negotiate with Environment Southland viz CEO Ciaran Keogh, (who is no longer employed by Environment Southland) and the somewhat arrogant compliance division to have these charges withdrawn, the carriers out of sheer frustration withdrew the use of their dump stations to the outside public in 2012.

As a result of a court case between Euan Shearing/Riverton Transport and Environment Southland it appears Environment Southland may need to get their own house in order before dealing with others.

We welcome the opportunity to work collaboratively with Rob Phillips, Environment Southland's new CEO, and hopefully a more accommodating compliance division.

The RTA paid for a half page coloured ad in The Southland Times reminding farmers to prepare their stock adequately for the 2012 cow shift.

It was pleasing to note that Environment Southland chairwoman Ali Timms wrote and congratulated the transport operators this year on the vast improvements this year compared to previous years.

The way forward from here: A more co-ordinated approach is called for. More farmer education. Adequate preparation of stock. Access to sufficient effluent dump stations.

We respectfully ask the editor to retract the statements in the November 6 editorial that "Frankly, a stern approach from the council was justified . . . farmers and the transport industry had been pretty much ignoring that scheme" . . . and "a timely and co-operative crackdown was by no means out of order".

The carriers have acted very responsibly so now let the farmers lift their game because the effluent comes from their cows so the onus should go on them and not the driver and carrier.

It should be noted that dairy cow numbers in Southland have risen from just over 100,000 in 1994 to 506,000 in 2012.

The positives that the increase in dairying has had on Southland should be noted and the emphasis should not be on what appears to be so many negatives.

We, the members of Region5 RTANZ, welcome the impending establishment of the long awaited effluent dump stations and will actively encourage our members to use these facilities.

- The Southland Times

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