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Record Environmental Fine

Media Release 1 August 2008

Farm That Employed Dairy Manager of the Year Convicted with Record Environmental Fine

A record fine has been handed down by the Environment Court in Napier today to the Crafar Group dairy operation, Taharua Farm, for breaching its resource consent. Taharua Farm has been fined $37,500 after Hawke's Bay Regional Council laid charges for the discharge of dairy effluent that was well over the resource consent conditions.

This is the largest fine in New Zealand for a single dairy effluent charge. Hawke's Bay Regional Council Team Leader Compliance, Bryce Lawrence, says this sends yet another clear message to the dairy industry. "This is the second significant message from the Environment Court in Hawke's Bay this year to the dairy industry that all consent conditions are critical, and that an offence is committed regardless of whether direct effects are proven," he said.

The basis of the Taharua Farm consent was that 3000 cows were being milked. However as cows increased above that number, to around 4500 cows, the effluent volume increased accordingly. There was no request from the farm company to change the conditions of that consent. During routine compliance checks in April and November by a Regional Council compliance office, the farm manager gave incorrect information on the number of cows on the property. Taharua farm manager Frank (Sam) Webb and his wife were winners of the Central Plateau farm manager of the year title in April 2007.

The Environment Court Judge Thompson recognised that if this was not a deliberate action, it was grossly negligent. Judge Thompson acknowledged that the Taharua and Mohaka rivers are sensitive receiving environments. The rivers also have significant cultural, commercial and recreational values, and discharges over and above the nitrogen loadings lead to insidious and cumulative effects over time. Hawke's Bay Regional Council environmental monitoring has, in recent years, measured a change in the quality of the water in the Taharua River which is becoming more nutrient rich.

These effects may be as a result of dairy shed effluent spreading, as well as the cumulative effects of land use within the catchment. The Mohaka River has been subject to a Conservation Order since 2004 which recognises its outstanding amenity and intrinsic values. Judge Thompson also noted that Taharua Farm is a large corporate farm. He said at the time of the offending they would have received a dairy payout of roughly a $5M based on their production of 1.1 million kilograms of milk solids.

Their 4500 cows have a value of $8M. Judge Thompson said that the fine must send a deterrent to both the general population and specifically to the Crafar Group of Companies. "The Court has acknowledged that there needs to be significant deterrent to large dairy corporate where significant profits can be realised during offending. As a Regional Council we can only repeat that a resource consent is a legally binding document, and we treat breaches of consent conditions as serious, because of the impact or potential impact on the environment, " said Mr Lawrence.

"In this case the impact would have been on the Taharua River and the iconic Mohaka River."

Mr Lawrence noted that only last week, the Minister for the Environment Hon Trevor Mallard announced the Government had appointed a four-person board of enquiry to hear submissions on a proposed national policy statement which will guide councils on water quality. Mr Mallard had said that they would be looking at the science around dairying and what is clear is that the rate of intensification, unchecked, will just not be able to continue. Mr Mallard said that in some areas, dairy expansion might not be able to continue.

ENDS


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