31 Mar 2015

Dairy moratorium too simplistic say farmers

9:33 am on 31 March 2015

Farmers say a region-wide moratorium on dairy farm conversions would be too simplistic and other ways of cutting the environmental impact of dairy farming need to be considered first.

Calves on a Waikato dairy farm.

Photo: AFP

Federated Farmers were dampening down the idea they support a moratorium after its Waikato branch suggested discussing the move earlier this month.

President of Federated Farmers William Rolleston said it was that unfortunate an attempt to have an open discussion about the possibility of a moratorium had been misreported as a call for this to happen.

He said there were other ways to lesson the impact of dairy farming in places such as South Canterbury, where he farms.

"If you look down at the catchments around where we are, we've got. from a nutrient point of view one, red zone and two orange zones.

"So those orange zones have some capacity to move in terms of having more intensification in those areas."

Mr Rolleston said the increased water storage and irrigation that was needed to farm dairy cows in low rainfall regions such as Canterbury can also be used to top up aquifers and wetlands.

"In the red zone when Hunter Downs comes along, a scheme that brings water from the Waitaki and irrigates farmland around Waimate, that will allow augmentation of the river into the Wainono Lagoon to actually bring its trophic level down.

"So there are a lot of different solution sand you don't just go rushing off with the sledge hammer of a moratorium."

But an economist with the Morgan Foundation Geoff Simmons said if the government was serious about water quality, then a moratorium was needed on any future dairy farm conversions.

"The question is what's been happening in the areas under the Canterbury water Management Plan that are either orange or green zone.

"We're seeing continued development. Are we going to wait until everything is critical before we start to manage the impact on our fresh water?"

Mr Simmons said the government could not continue to subsidise irrigation schemes without bringing in limits on nitrogen levels through the likes of a cap or a nitrogen trading scheme.

"If that water is being used for irrigation for dairy farming or even intensifying sheep and beef farming, then you are going to get more pollutants going back into the water.

"Now you can't subsidise the good stuff and not tax the bad stuff. That's not consistent."

Former chief executive of the Canterbury Regional Council professor Brian Jenkins said increased dairy farming did not have to come at the expense of the environment.

He said the contamination of ground water often happened because farmers overwater their paddocks, saturating the ground and taking nitrates deep down into underground aquifers.

He said better management of water would reduce run-off and increase productivity.

"One of the key elements is using soil moisture levels to determine when you irrigate. There's probably only five to 10 percent of farmers that actually measure the soil moisture."

Mr Jenkins said the Government's controversial dumping of the regional councillors and introduction of new rules to fast track a water management plan had worked, and replaced the conflict that used to happen under the Resource Management Act with greater collaboration between affected groups.

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