10 Mar 2014

Risk analysis required before dairy conversion

2:30 pm on 10 March 2014

Farmers looking to convert properties into dairy farms in Southland will now be required to do environmental risk management analysis before they can get consent.

Cattle on a farm near Lumsden in Southland.

Cattle on a farm near Lumsden in Southland. Photo: PHOTO NZ

Environment Southland introduced the change last week. Deputy chair Nicol Horrell says it's a way of forcing farmers to think about the risks involved in converting land to dairy.

Mr Horrell says they have to look at the soils, at the areas they will spread effluent on and at how they will manage in winter and whether that means taking the cattle off and putting them on another farm.

From an environmental viewpoint, he says, it's being aware of the risks and taking steps to mitigate them.

There has been considerable debate over the efforts to bring in new rules to improve water quality in Southland, with some dairy farmers furiously opposed. Mr Horrell says while it hasn't always been easy, a large part of the community is now involved in dialogue on the issue.

He acknowledges that the dairy industry has really improved its attitude towards the environment and water quality in recent years: "We've seen a big change with Fonterra and DairyNZ who realise that their industry has to improve their environmental footprint, we've seen a big change in attitude where they're working quite closely with councils now."

Mr Horrell expects there will be about 20 to 30 applications for dairy conversions this year in Southland. At the start of the process to bring in new rules for the industry, he says, conversions stopped completely.

Confident of Otago compromise

Meanwhile, farmers in Otago are confident they've reached a compromise with the regional council on new water quality rules in their region.

The council is working on a plan change aimed at maintaining or improving water quality by controlling the discharge of contaminates from rural land to water.

Federated Farmers was among 21 parties that appealed the council's initial plan to the Environment Court and says it's been through a mediation process as part of that appeal and made changes both sides can live with.

Otago president Stephen Korteweg says that under the pending new rules farmers will have to pay closer attention to what's going onto the land and what's coming off it.

He says it's great Federated Farmers didn't have to go through the expensive Environment Court process but he's not saying how much they've spent fighting the plan.

Meanwhile, a group seeking reform of the sheep and beef sector is calling on Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy to organise a national summit at which realistic options for industry reform can be fleshed out.

The Meat Industry Excellence group says it's not in New Zealand's economic or environmental interests for the country to be turned into a giant dairy farm.