Dairy farms rigorously monitored

Taranaki dairy farmers are under one of the strictest environmental monitoring regimes in the country, incurring more warning notices than any other region.

Figures obtained by Fairfax Media under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act show that Taranaki Regional Council issued 125 abatement notices in the year 2013/2014 for dairy effluent disposal lapses - the most in the country.

They issued 14 infringement notices and prosecuted two farmers.

Northland issued 101 abatement notices, followed by Waikato with 18, Bay of Plenty and Southland with 16 and Canterbury with 12.

Abatement notices require a person to stop any activity contravening the Resource Management Act, resource consent or council plan.

Infringement notices impose an instant fine of $300 to $1000.

Taranaki Fish and Game senior field officer Allen Stancliff said the TRC had a long history of visiting all dairy farms every year to check on compliance with effluent disposal systems, and if non-compliance was found they issued an abatement notice and had reinspections.

"Farmers are expecting a visit every year so that's an incentive to make sure everything's operating correctly and within resource consents."

He said water quality was heading in the right direction as a result of the council's proactive stance, but there was scope for further improvement.

Stancliff said Taranaki was fortunate in having short, steep streams, most of which leave Egmont National Park in pristine condition, but algal proliferation due to nutrients and low flows was still a problem in the lower reaches.

Federated Farmers president Dr William Rolleston said the results should be interpreted carefully when the reasons for the abatement notices were not known.

"Were they directly related to actual risk to the environment, or something as simple as not having the right sign on your dairy shed wall?"

Rolleston said the key to effective enforcement was good communication between farmers and councils.

TRC director of resource consent Fred McLay said one of the reasons for Taranaki's high level of compliance was face-to-face contact between enforcement officers and farmers.

In Taranaki each farmer was visited at least once a year, and a second time if they were non-compliant, while in the Waikato officers visited about 25 per cent of farmers each year, he said.

McLay said the enforcement action resulted in improved farmer behaviour in recent years.

He said the ultimate test of a successful monitoring system was environmental quality, which was improving in Taranaki.

"Even with intense dairying we are managing to maintain and, in some waterways, improve water quality."

McLay said all councils operated differently so the high number of abatement notices in Taranaki was not a reflection of poor environmental behaviour by farmers.

Taranaki Daily News