19 Mar 2010

Dairy farm pollution unacceptable - minister

9:17 am on 19 March 2010

The Minister of Agriculture says he's putting dairy farmers who pollute on notice, following the release of figures that show the lowest level of compliance so far with effluent discharge rules.

The annual report of the Dairying and Clean Streams Accord, released on Thursday, shows the number of farms where effluent discharge complied with resource consents and regional plans dropped from 64% to 60%.

The proportion of dairy farm showing significant non-compliance with effluent conditions rose to 15% from 12% the previous season.

However, the also shows that, for the 2008-09 dairy season, farmers have made progress in meeting some of the accord targets, aimed at minimising the impact of dairying on waterways.

Agriculture Minister David Carter says he'll look at toughening the laws if non-complying farmers don't improve their performance.

Mr Carter says the figures tell a totally unacceptable story of effluent management and the behaviour of non-complying farmers has to change.

He says he expects the dairy industry, in particular Fonterra and Dairy New Zealand, to get tougher with non-complying farmers.

The report measures compliance with the accord between dairy industry and central and local government, signed in 2003, aimed at limiting pollution in streams from dairy farms.

Improvements in two targets

The snapshot report shows there have been further slight gains on two of the targets.

The target of keeping dairy cattle out of waterways has been achieved for 78% to 80% of rivers and stream and 99% of dairy farms now have nutrient management systems in place - a gain of one percentage point on the previous season.

The report says 98% percent of farms have bridges or culverts over regular crossing points to keep cattle from moving through waterways, the same as the previous season.

However, the accord report identifies a lack of information or action from some regions on a further target of fencing off significant wetlands.

Fonterra to intensify monitoring

Fonterra says it will double the resources it puts into monitoring dairy farms' effluent management and will be checking every farm's effluent system annually.

The dairy co-operative's trade and operations head, Gary Romano, says it will start this month with a pilot programme in the biggest dairying region, Waikato, which it will extend nationally from August.

Mr Romano says the goal is to halve significant non-compliance with council dairy effluent rules within 18 months, working towards total compliance.

Fonterra says it's prepared to punish dairy farmers who persistently breach effluent discharge rules.

It refused to pick up the milk from 11 offending farms this season, and the company says all fixed effluent breaches either before the threat took effect or within days of stopping milk collection.

Farmer reaction

The Fonterra farmer watchdog body, the Shareholders' Council, says meeting the rules has to be a priority for all dairy farmers.

Chairman Blue Read says latest results are extremely disappointing and reflect badly on Fonterra, those farmers who comply and the entire industry.

Federated Farmers' dairy chair, Lachlan McKenzie, says there is a need for a greater consistency in the way farms are inspected.

He says having a system akin to a car's warrant of fitness would set consistent standards that could also take regional soil, climate and topographical variations into account.

Fish and Game resource management director Neil Deans says if the accord is not delivering better quality water, then it should be scrapped and another way of achieving the aim should be found.

The Green Party says the latest report shows that the time has come for the Government to step in and regulate the impact of dairy pollution with enforceable water-quality standards.