Dairy effluent inspection programme
Disappointing start to dairy effluent inspection programme For immediate
release: Monday 10 November 2008
Environment Bay of Plenty officers are disappointed by a poor start to their annual dairy farm inspection programme.
Of those sites visited, more than 20 sites have already shown serious or major non-compliance with many resulting in unauthorised discharges of effluent to land and/or waterways.
Neil Oppatt, Chairman of Environment Bay of Plenty's Regulation Monitoring and Investigation Committee, said the figures were very disappointing and unacceptable and he hoped they weren't a sign of region-wide problems.
"Caring for the environment is a fundamental principle for all businesses and several seasons of high performance may have allowed people to become complacent in their farming practices," Mr Oppatt said.
So far this season the Regional Council has visited half of the nearly 350 farms to be checked as part of its annual monitoring programme. The programme involves staff assessing farmers' effluent management and disposal systems with the requirements of their resource consents, mostly looking at how they are managing their effluent ponds or irrigation systems. Officers also inspect other possible sources of contaminants, such as runoff from feedpads, stand off pads and silage bunkers where practicable.
Mr Oppatt said historically, problems had occurred with dairy effluent in isolated cases, however this year staff were finding major issues such as overflowing effluent ponds, lack of irrigation system maintenance and of poor staff training. In addition other contamination sources like silage leachate and effluent runoff from feedpads on farms were being identified as well, which was not good enough.
"We know that some farmers are moving to higher intensification farming methods. While there are benefits to some of the tools that are used in this type of farming, such as using feedpads and stand-off pads, farmers need to make sure that the systems that support them are properly designed and able to cope with the effluent load."
Mr Oppatt said that the Regional Council understood farmers were under huge pressure at this time of year with a myriad of farm duties, however this did not mean they could ignore their environmental responsibilities.
"In some cases it appeared little attention had been paid to effluent system maintenance in anticipation of spring, such as lowering effluent levels in ponds" he said.
It is especially worrying in areas susceptible to adverse effects from nutrient input like the Rotorua Lakes, where several cases of serious non-compliance have been recorded so far this season.
"There are genuine and proven reasons why farmers must meet basic standards when operating their farms. We've got to protect our environment so farming can continue in a sustainable way in future years. It's not good enough that they're not being met."
Barry Harris, Chairman of Fonterra's Sustainability Leadership Team said that this, or any other level of non-compliance, was unacceptable to Fonterra.
"It's also unacceptable to the majority of suppliers who ensure their effluent systems meet the required regional regulations," Mr Harris said. "We plan to redouble our efforts in this area of regional dairy effluent regulations, as we are aware that public patience on this issue is running out."
"Environment Bay of Plenty has informed us that there is no common problem with effluent systems found to be non-compliant," said Mr Harris. "But it is clear not enough priority has been given to the setup, storage capacity for wet weather and maintenance of a well run effluent system and that has to change."
Fonterra is writing to all farmers in the region offering assistance and advice from its local Sustainability Dairying Specialist. DairyNZ also offers the Farm Enviro Walk, a self-assessment tool which identifies areas to help farmers improve nutrient and effluent management on their farms.
Mr Oppatt reiterated that although the majority of farmers in the region are doing a responsible job in managing their effluent systems, they are being let down by those who are flouting the rules. "It is certainly frustrating that some in the industry are disregarding their commitment to the Clean Streams Accord which states that 100% of farm dairy effluent discharges comply with resource consents and regional plans immediately," he said.