Dairying IS the Problem!

The facts all point to the increase in dairying (19% growth in 2009-10 alone) in Southland having a direct relationship to a deterioration of water quality. The science collected around the Waituna by both DoC and Environment Southland shows the growth in cow numbers relates to a similar growth in nitrogen and phosphorus levels found in local rivers and the lagoon. From five dairy herds in the nineties there are now forty herds in the Waituna catchment. Consents for intensive stocking on porous peat land seems nonsensical now, especially when earlier consents only required two day holding ponds, and in wet winter weather many farms are awash with effluent. Regulations currently deal with only around 10% of the dairy effluent, most is excreted on to the wintering paddocks by the herds and washed into waterways with every rainfall.

Past Environment Southland Councils operated very much like a branch of Federated Farmers and the previous chair, Stuart Collie, openly supported the philosophy that the environment had to take second place to economic growth. An attempt to cover the increased costs of managing the growth in dairying and enforcing compliancy with an increase in rates was firmly blocked by the farming community and we have a continuation of general rate payers subsidizing the environmental management of the industry. Research into the external costs of dairying in Canterbury established that up to $45 million a year had to be shouldered by those outside the industry in that province alone.

I think we have to accept that any industry that promises huge profits creates a gold rush mentality and rapid growth creates growing pains for regulatory authorities who do not enjoy a parallel growth in their funding or operating capacity. The Dairy industry has grown with few constraints and many who have profited from that growth have turned a blind eye to the consequences. We can't effectively reverse what has been done and the new water management regulations have no retrospective powers, we are captured by the poor decisions of the past and there appears to be no clear way forward.

Nick Smith offered little hope. The $15 million of contestable funding to assist with cleaning waterways was one possibility, however, given the fact that the $8.8 million the Green Party got for the protection of wetlands for the past five years is about to end, this may barely replace what has already existed. Public money and local councils will not make a huge difference to the current situation so we are dependent on the goodwill and the moral or ethical heart of the dairy industry to step up and give something back.

Fonterra's  $293 million post tax profit for the last half year and the CEO's $5.1 salary ($100,000 per week) makes the $15 million set aside to clean our nation's water seem pitiful in comparison. It is about time the industry took a stronger lead in ensuring that the environmental consequences of the industry are properly managed. I suggest that they could easily set up some model dairy farms around the country where environmental best practice can be trialled, researched and promoted. Wintering pads could be subsidized on farms where wintering herds create environmental challenges and waste can be converted into commercially viable biogas or manageable forms of fertilizer. Such initiatives cannot be left to individual farmers and would have to be managed collectively and led by the industry as a whole.

There are solutions, there is the economic capacity within the industry, let's just do it!


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