Their land, our water

The paddocks on the side of the road between Tarras and the bridge over the Clutha near Luggate used to be dry and barren for most of the year.

Some of them still are, but others are green and productive, thanks to irrigation.

Which looks better is a matter of opinion but I prefer the green and admire the increased productivity farmers are getting from it.

Some of the irrigated farmland which would have struggled to support a few sheep is now able to feed bulls. These bulls no doubt have the same sort of outputs as dairy cows, but there is a major difference between the Upper Clutha farms and the dairy operations proposed for the Mackenzie Basin and that’s scale.

The bulls grazing paddocks beside the Tarras-Luggate road number in the low 10s. The Mackenzie dairy proposals are for nearly 18,000 cows.

In announcing that he’s calling in the consents for these big operations, Environment Minister Nick Smith said that stock will produce effluent similar to the amount produced by a city of 250,000 people.

That’s an awful lot of waste and helps explains why Environment Canterbury received around 5,000 submissions on the applications for resource consent.

Some were about animal welfare which do not come under the Resource Management Act and I’d be very surprised if any of the concerns were valid. Keeping cattle indoors may not be the way we’re used to farming here but it doesn’t by itself constitute any welfare issues.

Some were about what irrigation and dairying would do to the views. That is entirely subjective, what some regard as beautiful productive paddocks, others will see as blots on the landscape.

Although, it’s not just about how the landscape looks but what’s happening to it. Those travelling through at 100 kilometres an hour don’t appreciate the environmental damage that unrelenting heat and wind can do.

In the January 2-8 Listener, Simon Williamson of Glenbrook Station, was asked about the cost to the landscape of irrigation. He replied:

“I don’t see how it detracts. A green foreground and brown hills. Before it would have been a brown foreground and a dust storm.” *

Many of the other submissions were on the potential threat to water quality and these  submitters are on stronger ground.

Housing the cows as is proposed in the applications allows the farms to have much more control on the dispersal of effluent than if the stock was grazing pasture. But systems are only as good as the people who operate them and can never be fool-proof.

Besides, whether inside or out, these cattle will produce a lot of effluent. The Minster’s appointees will have to be satisfied that there is no danger to water quality from it and that may be very difficult to guarantee.

It is the applicants’ land but their right to do what they will with it doesn’t extend to polluting our water.

* The Williamson quote isn’t online, but the rest of the feature from which it came, Mainland dust-up, is on line and well worth a read.

Update: Federated Farmers media release on the calling in is here.

7 Responses to Their land, our water

  1. pdm says:

    There must be some give and take with the 18,000 Dairy Cows HP as you can’t breed that many over night or in a season. Therefore the bulk of them must be moved from other parts of the country which will have a reduced intensity of dairy farming for a few years at least.


  2. Linda Reid says:

    I wonder where Nick Smith got the idea that 18,000 cows will produce effluent similar to the amount produced by a city of 250,000 people.

    I’m not saying it’s wrong, but it doesn’t pass the ‘sniff test’ to me.

    Sure people are smaller, but we produce more waste water than animals, surely.

    If he’d said 30,000 people, I would have just accepted it. But 250,000? Not sure.


  3. XChequer says:

    I was born and bred in Wanaka so I have an affinity for the area and for the Waitaki Basin as well. Favoritism could well colour this comment and for that I make no apology.

    There is no doubt that farming in the Mackenzie Basin and even through the Lindis has a declining viability in the way that we have traditionally farmed the area over the last 100 years. My Grandfather had is first farm in Tarras and if he saw it now, he would shake his head, and mumble something about looking for a new house in Alex with a new business to boot. Water has become an issue for the area over the last 50 years in ways never imagined back when my Grandfather moved to Wanaka and built the most state of the art irrigation system the Clutha or the Waitaki districts had seen.

    Without irrigation, the way of life for thousands, the work available for tens of thousands and the economies of Otago and New Zealand will be lessened.

    I agree with Jim Morris when he said

    “People tend to think in 50-year terms, but we need to think in 500-year terms.”

    This is not a problem to be solved overnight.

    Messrs Fastier, Zeestraten and Peacocke would say that they are ensuring the lifestyles of central residents with their plans for intensive (by Centrals standards anyway) dairying. Sure they have studies galore, commissioned by themselves, showing sustainable water use wedded to new technologies to reduce effluent run-off. And there is no doubt that it would add some prosperity to an area beset by economic hardship by the arse falling out of wool – not to mention the rabbits.

    However this is just a front. These people who want to intensively farm the Mackenzie and surrounds have given up. They say they want to green-ify the area and make it productive again. They are not in this for the quick buck.

    This is bollocks. They are waving the flag and going for the fastest dollar they can. Sure the fastest dollar in this case will take about twenty years to come to fruition but by then in milk production and protein exporting New Zealand will have been “killed” by places like Chile.

    The simple fact is that the Waitaki is a bloody hard area to farm – always has been and always will be. I’ve mustered a couple of the stations mentioned and, to Wanaka Boy, even I thought the people farming that land were doing it tough.

    But radically redefining an area of land to a vision the land was never meant to meet or accede to is madness. To try and manipulate the land against the existing micro climate is fraught with difficulty and in the end, destructive. One only needs to look at Canterbury with its plague of pivots producing crop circles where grazing and cropping once lay as a great example. Already, after only 10 years of conversions to dairying, Canterbury is starting to see the effects on it’s land of this “misuse”. Water levels dropping rapidly and therefore a clamouring for more water through schemes. To an increase in leaching and nitrate infiltration that our best and brightest in the research halls of Lincoln are struggling to understand. And, compared to the Waitaki and the Mackenzie, Canterbury is easier to deal with given its flat topography. The Mackenzie will produce more concentrated problems!

    Don’t think for a moment that these guys are all here about the “sustainability” and the protection of one of New Zealand’s most amazing landscapes. Don’t think for a moment that these guys are concerned with the welfare of the people and keeping the High Country dream alive. Make no mistake, they are in it for the buck.

    I don’t have all the answers. Perhaps it’s like Jim Morris said – we need to look at different ways to farm the area. And I’m not some pinko, tree hugging, fancy glasses wearing bureaucrat from Wellington either. I know those places, I know those people and I love them dearly.

    I believe that selective irrigation is the way forward as my Grandfather proved back in the 60’s. With the careful husbanding of water – New Zealand’s number one resource – the Mackenzie, Clutha and Waitaki districts can thrive.

    But not like this.

    Ask yourself: if you were driving through the Mackenzie and saw thousands of cows on lush green pastures while pivots robotically swung away, would your instincts tell you this is right? Intuitively the answer would be no. The thousands of submissions made on the subject support this. And on a question like this, with so much at stake…… I think we can go with our instincts on this.



  4. XChequer says:

    Please excuse the grammatical errors and spelling mistakes but I rapped that out in fairly quick time with no thought to proof.:-)


  5. homepaddock says:

    PDM – It’s the impact the cows will have on the land and water where they are which is at issue.

    Linda, I heard Fed Farmers on the radio questioning the figure too but missed the response. I wonder if it takes into account the discahrge of water for cleaning not just what comes directly from the cows.

    XChequer – as one who types faster than she spells I fully understand others do too.

    Thanks for making such a full response based on local knowledge of the area and farming.


  6. Pippa says:

    I’m in a panel discussion at 7.15pm tonight (Monday, Feb 1) on National Radio on dairying and the environment. I’ll bear these comments in mind, thanks. You can take part too by emailing the programme on or texting 2101. Also on the panel is Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright, soils scientist Doug Edmeades, organic farmer Jamie Tait-Jamieson, and Fonterra sustainable production manager John Hutchings.


  7. Pippa says:

    The audio of the discussion on dairy farming and the environment on NatRad Nights is now on the RNZ website FYI.


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