The editorial in today's Southland Times refers to the lack of honesty from the dairy industry in reporting their progress in fencing off waterways. The dairy industry has been adamant that self regulation is the best way forward in ensuring environmental protection and that they would be more likely to be proactive in this area without tight regulation and constant monitoring from local authorities. My discussions with Russell McPherson, Southland Federated Farmers Dairy Chairman, revealed a similar strong view from local dairy farmers that Environment Southland over regulated and were over zealous in their policing of those regulations. Russell claimed most dairy farmers were responsible and environmentally aware and should be left alone and trusted to do the right thing. Fonterra has also made reassuring claims in their statement on environmental sustainability:
We’ve also set ourselves clear environmental targets to monitor our progress and make ourselves more accountable. And as we meet – or exceed – these targets, we’re raising our standards even higher.
Fonterra works in partnership with our farmers to lift on-farm standards and has taken a leadership role in working with Government and industry groups to minimise the impact of dairying on the environment.
Sadly both the dairy farmers and Fonterra have been found to wanting in their commitment to protecting our waterways from their industry. Fonterra's survey of farmers claimed that 84% of their supplying farms had excluded dairy cattle from all waterways "deeper than a Red Band gumboot and wider than a stride". MAF's comprehensive national survey found the reality was half of what was being claimed, they found that of the 587 farms they inspected only 42% had fenced off such waterways. Such exaggeration and inaccuracy in reporting on the industry's environmental progress is very revealing and demonstrates that regulation and independent monitoring will be necessary for some time if real progress is to be made.
It is disappointing that when the dairy industry is so keen to lose the "dirty" tag and demonstrate their concern for the quality of our waterways, their commitment turns out to be shallower than their Red Band gumboots.