Acting 'too late' costs farmers $90k

BY AARON LEAMAN AND JEFF NEEMS
Last updated 05:00 29/08/2009

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Dairy farmers the Crafars have been hit with a record $90,000 in fines for dirty dairying on a Waikato farm and told by a judge they acted "simply too late" in dealing with the problems and he doubted their remorse.

Judge Laurie Newhook's comments came yesterday at the Hamilton District Court as he sentenced Hillside Limited and its three directors brothers Frank and Allan Crafar and Allan's wife Elizabeth on 34 charges relating to the "systemic failure" of a problem-plagued effluent system on the company's 366-hectare Collins Rd farm, southwest of Hamilton.

Judge Newhook said the defendants' 10-month period of offending represented an "extremely high level of carelessness".

Hillside Limited and the two brothers were each fined $29,500 on 10 charges under the Resource Management Act after a long-running prosecution by Environment Waikato (EW). Elizabeth Crafar was fined $1500 n four charges.

In a seven-hour sentencing, Judge Newhook repeated his view that the ultimate responsibility for ongoing compliance on the farm rested with the company and its directors. The judge cast doubt over defence submissions the dairy moguls were remorseful.

In submissions, defence counsel Peter Hardie said the Crafars had since spent $630,000 on effluent system improvements at the Collins Rd farm, and noted the family's contribution to the dairy sector. Mr Hardie said publicity surrounding the case had been excessive and distressing for the defendants.

He levelled particular criticism at EW's regulatory committee chairman Ian Balme, who was in court, over newspaper comments describing the Crafars as "poster boys for dirty dairying".

Prosecutor Fletcher Pilditch noted other staff and companies in the Crafars' expansive farming empire had been convicted on similar offences which Judge Newhook said also concerned him.

Mr Pilditch said the Crafars showed "a demonstratively cavalier attitude" towards their responsibilities and EW.

"The defendants brought this on themselves, by failing to act on concerns expressed to them," Mr Pilditch said.

Judge Newhook said while the Crafars had shown a willingness to address effluent problems on the Collins Rd farm, including staff training and advice, their actions had been "simply too late".

Frank and Elizabeth Crafar declined to speak to the Waikato Times outside the court, but Allan Crafar said he was "disappointed" by the sentence.

Allan Crafar said he and his brother and their company "took action all the way along" to address the issues which led to the prosecution.

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He said that despite owning 22 farms 18 of them dairy units and 20,000 cows, he had not felt that the family's resources were stretched "at that time". He did not believe the farms were over-stocked, despite herd size being an issue in the prosecution.

"We're not there on a daily basis running it," he said of the operation of the Collins Rd farm.

Mr Hardie said the "actual offences that occurred on this farm were in the day-to-day control of the sharemilker".

He attacked the Resource Management Act, which he said had "enormous ramifications, of a negative kind, on the way dairying is conducted in this country".

EW compliance team leader Rob Dragten said he was satisfied with the sentence.

Mr Dragten said sharemilker Ivan Lammas, who alerted EW to the effluent issues at Collins Rd, was not prosecuted because the council believed liability lay with those charged.

Dairy farmers needed to be proactive in looking at effluent systems to avoid prosecutions.

Mr Lammas maintained he was not responsible for the problems on the property as the Crafars repeatedly claimed and said the help he got from them was never sufficient.

- Waikato Times

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