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.