Editorial: Dairying not yet clean

There are two ways to look at the latest report from Environment Canterbury (ECan) on dairy effluent consent compliance.

First, the positive view.

ECan visited each of the region's 977 dairy farms at least once in the last season. That's a feat in itself. Not every industry is so scrutinised.

And more farms showed full compliance, 70 per cent in fact. Over the last five dairy seasons the figures show full compliance at 46, 43, 59, 65 and now 70 per cent of farms. That's a significant improvement.

Conversely, major non-compliance has gone from 21 per cent in 07-08, to 19, 8, 9.8 and now 8.6 per cent.

This means at least nine out of 10 dairy farmers are now either fully complying or close to it.

Also good news is that the industry itself is keen on change, with Fonterra regularly visiting farms to help its suppliers reach full compliance. And from the end of next year Fonterra may refuse to pay for milk from non-complying farms.

Then there is the counter view, the one many people would hold.

Most telling, almost one in 10 farms showed major non-compliance.

And it's been hovering around that level for three years now, and the same comments are being made about a joint approach focusing on education rather than big sticks.

Sorry, for everyone else, complying with a resource consent isn't optional, nor is there a grace period. These are the consent conditions, they apply from day one.

Not so for dairying, with ECan prosecuting just one farmer in the last year, when 84 farms showed major non-compliance. And by that we're talking effluent discharges into water and major issues with ponding.

It did issue 13 abatement notices and 19 infringement notices, but that still means in 51 cases of major non-compliance there was no punishment. Why not?

This is the environment we're talking about.

Each year that such statistics come out means the dirty dairying argument is still valid, despite the improvements.

It's not as if it's one or two bad apples, it's much worse than that, and major non-compliance appears to have stalled at 8 or 9 per cent.

No wonder Fish & Game is calling for Fonterra to stop picking milk up from such farms now.

And surely it's time for ECan to get tougher. There's no stronger education than a hefty fine or closure of a dairy shed.

The Timaru Herald