Cleaning up dairying

The rise is serious non-compliance with the Clean Streams Accord from 12 to 15% is disappointing.

It is particularly concerning when there’s been so much work put into improving compliance within the industry.

However, the response from the industry is encouraging.

Fonterra announced it will check effluents systems on all its suppliers’ farms every year.

DairyNZ has already done a lot of work on the problem:

DairyNZ CEO Dr Tim Mackle says through this investment over the last two years, they have learned a lot more about why many dairy farm systems are non-compliant.

“The design of many systems is such that they are not fit for purpose throughout the year. We have been working with the effluent industry to develop a code of practice and are strongly advocating a warrant of fitness approach so that we correct this fundamental problem.”

Last week DairyNZ and industry partners released for consultation new standards and a code of practice for the design of farm dairy effluent systems.

“We would like to get our effluent systems on all farms to a high standard within the next five years, or sooner if possible.”

Dr Mackle says many farmers are uncertain about what they need to do to be compliant and DairyNZ is working with regional councils to establish effluent compliance checklists to give farmers greater guidance on what needs to be done on their farm.

“Our aim is by doing this we will come away with a better system design and promote systems that work and have a higher standard of rural professionals advising on these systems which will cut costs. We can then focus our efforts on making sure staff know how to work these systems.

“We are serious about getting this right, and are working closely with Fonterra and Federated Farmers on the issue. It’s crucial to our industry’s reputation both nationally and internationally, as well as being essential for the environment,” he says.

Federated Farmers dairy chair Lachlan Mckenzie said the results present a challenge for farmers, but he’s accentuating the positive:

“Yet while our news is disappointing, the dairy industry is fronting it publicly. Disclosing our environmental footprint, good or bad, is all about being open and accountable because our performance is out there for all to see.

“Wouldn’t it be encouraging, for once, if the vast majority of dairy farmers actually got positive reinforcement for the big strides we’ve made.  Farmers may have a right to farm but the good ones, the majority, swear by their environmental obligations.

“We mustn’t lose sight of the fact that 85 percent of New Zealand’s dairy farmers are either fully compliant or guilty of no more than an administrative breach.  This Report really highlights need for greater consistency with the way farms are inspected.

“To take the dairy industry forward, Fonterra, DairyNZ and Federated Farmers want to work with regional councils to develop what may resemble a dairy farm ‘warrant of fitness’ (WoF).

“The concept is just like that for a car WoF.  It’s about setting consistent standards and methodologies that take into account regional variations in soil, climate and topography.  You would never test vehicles the way our dairy farms are currently tested.

Agriculture Minister David Carter isn’t impressed by the results:

“The data from this year’s snapshot tells a totally unacceptable story of effluent management. Regardless of whether this is because farmers don’t have the right tools, don’t know how to comply, or simply don’t care, behaviour has to change.”

Mr Carter says the dairy industry as a whole will suffer through the damage caused to its national and international reputation, unless New Zealand can back up its claims of sustainable dairying with tangible action and evidence.

“You can argue the merits of dairy to our economy until the cows come home – but until every farmer takes responsibility for improving effluent management, the environment and dairying’s reputation will suffer.

“I am putting non-complying dairy farmers across the country on notice. You need to take individual responsibility for this issue and work more effectively with your neighbours, your regional councils and your industry body.

“I am also calling on regional councils and partners of the Dairying and Clean Streams Accord to lift their game. They need to work harder at identifying those farmers who want to comply but need some help, and support them toward compliance. Regional councils also need to be more consistent in their monitoring, and be more rigorous in their application of existing regulations to penalise those flouting the law.

Any non-compliance is unacceptable and recent successful prosecutions by the Otago regional Council have provided salutary lessons for dairy farms in our area.

However, there ought to be some leeway to differentiate between a one-off accident, for example a sprayer breaks down when some leniency could be shown, and deliberate non-compliance which ought not to be tolerated.

Farming families drink the water from rivers and swim in them which provides us with a very high motivation ensuring they are clean.

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