23 Feb 2013

Opinion divided on new water accord

6:57 pm on 23 February 2013

The dairy industry's new water accord has been cautiously welcomed in some environmental quarters and criticised in others.

The Sustainable Dairying Water Accord will replace the Clean Streams Accord - a voluntary agreement between Fonterra and local and central government that has been operating since 2003 and expired last year.

The new agreement will be in place on 1 August after the start of the next dairy season and has been expanded to include all dairy companies and dairy farmers.

It aims to exclude 90% of dairy cattle from waterways by May next year and 100% by 2017.

Forest and Bird advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell says it's good news the new accord will now cover all regions and dairy farmers.

But he says Forest and Bird feels it lacks bite and it's unfortunate the proposal does not enshrine the key lesson that Fonterra has had to learn - that there needs to be some way to deal with the small group of farmers who are consistently poor performers.

Mr Hackwell says the accord needs rules and punishments spelt out.

Herd equivalent to 84 million humans

Green Party environment spokesperson Eugenie Sage labelled the new industry agreement a dirty streams accord.

She said farmers didn't meet the targets of the last accord and the new one is no better as it has no clear sanctions for breaches and won't do much to improve water quality.

"Our dairy cow herd of around six million is the equivalent of a human population of 84 million but without the sewage treatment."

Ms Sage says there needs to be a cap on the number of dairy cows in New Zealand, along with a commitment not to expand in areas like the Mackenzie Basin.

She says some environments are totally unsuited for dairying and there does not seem to be a recognition by the industry that that is the case.

Waikato regional councillor and dairy farmer Norm Barker, who chairs the land and water quality subcommittee, says the accord will reinforce the council's own work on new river protection measures starting with the Waikato and Waipa rivers.

Mr Barker says there's been a definite improvement in the dairy industry's environmental performance in Waikato, the country's biggest producing dairying region.

Farmers aware they will have to meet accord targets

Dairy companies say their farmer suppliers are well aware that they will be expected to meet the targets of the new accord.

Dairy Companies Association chair Malcolm Bailey says companies will still have the power, as Fonterra did under the old accord, to stop collecting the milk of farmers who persistently fail to comply with the environmental standards set by the industry and regional councils.

"We're all wanting to achieve the same outcome which is a compliance level which is better than in the past and to meet the targets that are inherent in the accord."

Mr Bailey, a Manawatu farmer and Fonterra director, says collectively farmers' reputation is on the line in terms of meeting the goals of the accord and how they are viewed by the community is a critical factor.