Water quality more worrying than mortgage


The ODT’s quote of the day from the hearings on the Otago Regional Council’s proposed water plan was from Neil Smith:

“I worry more about the proposed water management plan and effluent than I do about my mortgage”

Worrying about effluent isn’t unusual and it’s not a bad thing. We ought to be concerned it and the impact it could have on water quality if not managed properly.

However, most of us do what is required to manage effluent and ensure we are well within the rules.

The proposed changes to Plan 6 are a different matter because farmers don’t think it is possible to keep within the limits.

ODT reports on the hearings show farmers are concerned about the viability of their operations  under the proposed changes:

North Otago farmers yesterday queued up to tell the Otago Regional Council (ORC) they could go out of business if the council did not alter proposed changes to water quality rules. . .

Former North Otago Irrigation Company (NOIC) chairman Jock Webster said without irrigation schemes, farmers in the area      would still be at the mercy of a historically drought-prone region.   

Mr Webster said farmers had invested heavily in irrigation,  but had also had to increase productivity, in order to pay for watering systems.   

He said those who were part of the NOIC irrigation scheme already had farm environmental plans, which had resulted in better awareness of water quality. . .

. . . However, he added that the varying nature of soil and  particularly sub-soils in the area meant they could be eroded      easily during high rainfall, leading to poor water quality.   

“I do not believe those who drew up the water plan understand      the catchment sufficiently to write up sweeping rules and      conditions that may cover the whole of the Otago area.   

“There is no issue with water quality in the Waitaki Valley, and we have got some good things happening, but there is no      way we can meet some of the standards.   

 “You cannot change nature.”

And nature isn’t perfect anyway. Another quote of the day:

 “Recently we had water tests taken to  check how our farm will meet the proposed levels … They  show that the water quality coming out of the spring was  poorer than further down the drain. The spring water itself  does not meet the required limits” – Jeff Thompson

If spring water doesn’t meet the limits the limits are unreasonable.

There is also concern over uncertainty in the plan and the lack of tools which farmers can use to measure water quality.

My farmer was one of those who submitted yesterday. He likened the impact of the proposed plan to being expected to drive within the speed limit in a car without a speedometer.

No-one is arguing against the intent of the plan and the need to have good water quality.

The concern is that proposed changes are based on theoretic modelling which doesn’t take into account the nature of the soils, expects compliance when there are no measurement tools and imposes limits which are impossible to meet.

NOIC wins irrigation innovation award


North Otago Irrigation Company has won the 2012 Irrigation New Zealand innovation award for its audited self-management system.

The company’s entry featured a comprehensive programme of  environmental management which had been developed during the last six years.    

The company’s scheme irrigates 10,000ha, with work under way on stage two.   

         Environmental stewardship was part of everything the company  did, NOIC chairman Leigh Hamilton said in a statement.   

         “It starts with our culture and values and is a central part      of all our day-to-day operations, and has been so since the very start  of  the company.”   

        Environmental sustainability was not just something that happened on its own.   

        The company has invested significant time, money and effort into developing environmentally sound farm plans and improving environmental performance right across its scheme, Mr Hamilton said.  

The need to look after the land and soil were important has been a focus of NOIC from the start.

Environmental farm plans were requirements of its resource consent.

They’re independently audited and just part of the company’s determination to ensuring that its commitment to greening North Otago doesn’t just refer to the colour of the grass irrigation helps to grow.

EcoClimate report not all bad


Last week’s rain which varied from 12 – 30 mls in different parts of North Otago has lowered temperatures. So while noting the touch of frost on my morning walk I wondered if it would be all bad news if the globe is warming?


The EcoClimate report, Costs and Benefits of Climate Change and Adaption to climate change in New Zealand, which was released by MAF yesterday, says that farming may be better in some areas if the temperature rises a degree or two.


The full report is here and the authors stress it should be regarded as part of the risk assessment of what could happen to production not a firm prediction on what will happen.


The Herald says the impact of climate change wouldn’t be all bad, but the bad effects would be worse than in the past.

The expectation for North Otago is it will be warmer which could mean an earlier growing season. However, it might also be drier with a greater risk of droughts.

“For an average year in the future the predicted changes are small when averaged across the country,” said MAF’s director of national resources policy, Mike Jebsen.

“But different parts of the country are affected differently, with the west becoming wetter, the east drier and all of the country becoming warmer.”

The growing season will get longer, especially in Southland and the West Coast. But although production is expected to increase there, it will decrease in Northland and some east coast areas.

In an average year in the 2030s or 2080s the expected impact on national export revenue from dairying, compared with now, is expected to be minimal. For sheep and beef farming it would be between 4 and 9 per cent lower.

But in extreme years droughts are expected to be worse than those experienced in recent decades, like the 1977/78 and 1997/98 episodes, and national production from pastoral farming would be almost halved.

 Econometric modelling by the Treasury a few years ago found drought to be the second most potent influence on the New Zealand economic cycle, after export prices.

We know all about that in North Otago which has been dogged by recurring droughts. The impact on individuals is as harrowing as ever, though the impact on the district is getting less as irrigation increases.  

Droughts would become more frequent, said Niwa scientist David Wratt, and the work suggested the likelihood of the especially damaging case of a two-year drought might be higher.

“What is now a one-in-20-year drought might become a one-in-five-year one later in the century.”

The work takes no account of any increased risk of pests and diseases which might arise from higher average temperatures (about 2C over the rest of the century, twice the increase of the past 100 years), with fewer frosts and more hot days. Nor does it attempt to model how farmers would react to these climatic changes.

“It takes no account of adaptation, for example, water harvesting and storage or going to drought-resistant plants,” Jebsen said.

More precipitation on the Southern Alps might mean more water coming down the South Island rivers, increasing the potential for irrigation.

North Otago Irrigation Company (NOIC) is already working on the second stage of its scheme which has consents to water 20,000 hectares. The scheme has 100% reliability of supply because it takes water from the Waitaki River which is snow fed.

Greens get it wrong on dariying


A fertiliser rep who moved here from Scotland told me the biggest threat to New Zealand exports was the British tabloids. He reckoned just one photo of a cow in a stream could seriously damage the reputation of our farms and consequently our markets.


We don’t have to wait for the tabloids to come to us, The Hive  points out the Greens are doing the ground work for them with this press release   on the risk from “dirty dairying”.

“Industrial dairying, or agricultural intensification, is leading to a decline in water quality across the country, as revealed in the suppressed Chapter 13 of the Ministry for the Environment’s State of the Environment report earlier this year,” says Dr. Russel Norman, Green Co-leader.

“If we want to gain an EU eco-label we will need to clean up the effluent and nutrients running into our rivers and lakes leaving them ecologically decayed, not to mention dangerous for our kids to swim in.

“Our economic future is linked to our environmental husbandry. We need to look after the land and the rivers if we expect others to pay a premium for our produce.”

I agree we need to look after our land and rivers but this release doesn’t acknowledge that most of us do. A couple of weeks ago Ag Research held a field day on our property. One of the speakers was Otago Regional Council Land Resources Officer Susie McKeague who said that North Otago generally did not have a problem with water pollution.


Among the reasons for this were the environmental farm plans which are mandatory for anyone taking water from the North Otago Irrigation Company (NOIC).  In a first for NZ the plans were a condition of the resource consent for the scheme. The plans ensure efficient use of water, control of run off, careful dispersal of effluent, fencing of water ways, riparian planting and other measures to protect the soil and water. They are independently monitored each year by the North Otago Sustainable Land Management Groups (NOSLaM)


New Zealand isn’t perfect and farmers have a big role to play in protecting our air, soil and water but there is nothing to be gained by ill-informed comments like these:


Federated Farmers and much of the Government are still in denial about the declining quality of our natural water bodies. Good farmers doing the right thing are being punished by industrial dairy companies making a fortune trading on our clean and green reputation. But if we don’t force industrial dairy to clean up its act then our clean and green reputation will end up tarnished which will damage all our exports, including tourism.”


Federated Farmers are not in denial, and while I can’t speak for all Regional Councils nor are the ORC and Environment Canterbury. Last month the ORC took three dairy farmers to court for breeching the council water plan with effluent discharges.


While there is no room for complacency and still room for improvement the Greens are behind the times with this press release. However, if they are genuinely concerned about water quality they could agitate for action on the Tukituki River in Hawkes Bay into which thousands of cubic metres of only partially treated urban sewage is pumped each day.

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