Dairy farm compliance rate low

Environmentalists say tougher regulation is needed after recent figures showing a nationwide increase in non-compliance from dairy farmers.

The Dairying and Clean Streams Accord 2008-09 snapshot report released yesterday revealed a 60 per cent rate of compliance for dairy effluent consents nationwide, down from 64 per cent for 2007-08.

In the Canterbury region, the compliance rate was 43 per cent – down from 46 per cent the previous year.

The accord was an agreement signed between Fonterra, Ministry for the Environment, Ministry for Agriculture and Forestry and Local Government New Zealand in 2003. It set goals for dairy farmers for excluding cattle from streams, developing nutrient budgets and fencing of wetlands. It also set a target for 100 per cent compliance.

However, Green Party co-leader Russel Norman told the Herald the accord was not enough. "They really should call it the dirty streams accord. I think we should continue with voluntary agreements, but they can't succeed on their own."

Dr Norman said although regional councils needed to enforce existing regulations, changes needed to be made to the Resource Management Act.

"Not a lot of people realise this, but at the moment you don't need a discretionary consent for the actual activity of intensive dairying. You might need separate consents for land use and effluent discharge, but not for putting 10,000 dairy cows on the land."

Central South Island Fish and Game chief executive Jay Graybill said the accord had passed its use-by date.

"One hates to sound like a broken record, but it is no good for a document to proscribe measures if it doesn't achieve environmental outcomes. If they can't get their act together then maybe tougher rules and regulations might be the way to go."

Agriculture Minister David Carter told the Herald the "tipping point" had not yet been reached for increased regulation. He acknowledged the latest figures were "hugely disappointing", but regional councils needed to get tougher. "The legislation is there, and regional councils need to use it. We are almost at the end of another dairying season, and hopefully next year's results will be an improvement. I don't think the die has been cast yet."

At a meeting with dairy representatives last year, Mr Carter said although the Government preferred voluntary agreements, it would be forced to act if there was no improvement in compliance rates.

Dr Norman said Mr Carter's comments yesterday proved he had back-tracked. "National has been weak on this issue, but then again, Labour was in government for nine years, and they didn't seem to care about water quality either."

Federated Farmers dairy chairman Lachlan Mckenzie said although the latest figures were disappointing, the industry's openness and accountability was a much bigger positive.

Mr Mckenzie said Fonterra, Dairy NZ and Federated Farmers would continue to work with regional councils to improve environmental management on dairy farms.

MAF spokesman Mike Jebson said the accord had made progress in a number of areas. "In Canterbury, for instance, nearly 90 per cent of cattle have been excluded from streams, while nearly all farmers involved have set sustainable budgets for nutrient issue. [The Clean Streams Accord] is just one more tool.

"While the recent results [for non-compliance] were disappointing, it's helped shine a light on the issues and puts the acid on the community to improve."

Mr Jebson said there could be several reasons for the increase in non-compliance figures, including a lack of understanding of the rules by new dairy farmers.

The Timaru Herald