18 Aug 2015

Farmers call for slow-down on new dairy farms

2:25 pm on 18 August 2015

Farmers downstream from large scale dairy conversions in the central North Island are calling for them to be stopped, until new nutrient limits are released.

dairy farm

Photo: 123rf

The state-owned enterprise and the country's largest farmer, Landcorp, is in the process of converting forestry land in southern Waikato to dairy farms for almost 30,000 more cows.

Prime Minister John Key said the Government was keeping a close eye on Landcorp's conversions in light of plummeting dairy prices, but he said there had been no orders to pull back on expansion.

Euan McKnight milks 275 cows at Reporoa, half way between Taupo and Rotorua.

Like the large scale dairy conversions, his 120-hectare farm falls under the Waikato River catchment area, for which new nutrient limits will soon be released by the Waikato Regional Council.

Mr McKnight has called for the conversions to stop, until the new limits are known.

"I think there should be a moratorium on any further conversion until we actually know what levels are actually going to be set for the catchment on a long term.

"The main concerns would be the nutrient loading, any effluent issues, coloiforms added to the river. Issues that a lot of us do face, but Landcorp are at a large scale, so their overall addition to the catchment area is going to be quite significant."

Mr McKnight said that in order to reduce his nutrient leeching he ran a low stocking rate of 2.4 cows to the hectare, did not feed a lot of supplements and has applied about 80 units of nitrogen fertiliser in the last few years.

Bay of Plenty dairy farmer Colin Guyton said it was strange to allow more land-use changes, when farmers will already be struggling to meet new water quality limits, expected to take effect next year.

He said farmers would be subsidising new developments if they put more pressure on the river.

"It just doesn't make sense that we allow that to happen at the same time that there is quite possibly going to be severe restrictions put on everybody that's using the land in that catchment."

State-owned enterprise Landcorp is the country's biggest farmer and its chief executive,

Steven Carden, said in a statement the Wairakei Estate project, which was where the conversions from forestry to dairy were occurring, was 12 years into a 40-year lease, with 13 dairy farms now operating.

Mr Carden said with all conversions it was careful to ensure they were both environmentally and financially viable.

He said the company was keeping an open mind on the best use of land in the central plateau; a sheep milk farm would be opened this week.