10 May 2017

Farmers 'dead keen' to improve water practices - council

8:06 pm on 10 May 2017

A group of farmers near Whakatāne are working with the regional council to try and improve water quality by changing the way they farm.

Alison Dewes

Alison Dewes Photo: RNZ / Alexa Cook

Agribusiness consultant Ailson Dewes has gathered about 15 dairy farmers on behalf of the Bay of Plenty Regional Council to understand more about how their farming systems can impact water quality.

Ms Dewes said the group was facing the issue head-on.

"They are sitting around the table, they are exposing all their numbers in terms of the health of their business, their environmental footprint, the way they farm - and they're saying 'we realise the way we farmed in the past is not the way we can farm in the future'.

"They are dead keen to solve problems and find new ways to farm with a lower footprint."

The farmer hosting the meeting is Paul Warneford, who owns several dairy and beef farms between Whakatāne and Ōpōtiki.

Paul Warneford, a farmer, is hosting the meeting on sustainable farm management with the council.

Paul Warneford, a farmer, is hosting the meeting on sustainable farm management with the council. Photo: RNZ / Alexa Cook

He said the farmers wanted to control what was being leeched through the soils, and to be able to farm more efficiently.

"What we've changed on our place here is it's not as heavily stocked, our fertiliser ... we put on what we need - we've been over fertilising as an industry for years.

"We've got wetlands that we created years ago, and we recycle our effluent."

Most farmers were doing well, Mr Warneford said, but in the past the information from regional councils did not factor in the cost of changing systems.

He said the dairy downturn had actually improved the situation.

"People realised we couldn't afford to just chuck money away and there's been money to be made for the outside industries on the information they are giving us.

"Now we've got to a bit better balance where they [councils] are actually starting to come out and listen to what cockies are saying."

Down the road from Paul Warneford's house is the Waiotahe catchment where there is a health warning on the shellfish because of E coli poisoning from dairy cows.

Tim Senior from the Bay of Plenty Regional Council is the land management officer for the area.

Bay of Plenty Regional Council land management officer Tim Senior.

Bay of Plenty Regional Council land management officer Tim Senior Photo: RNZ / Alexa Cook

He said the council is looking at options to improve water quality.

"Reducing stocking rates may be one of the things we look at. We may have to look at retiring bits of land here and there and creating wetlands.

"We may have to look at increasing the retired area on streams.

"There's a whole raft of things that we're going to be looking at."