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Hinakura farmer Grant Muir criticizes farming leaders

Hinakura farmer Grant Muir criticizes farming leaders announcements on swimmable rivers as bollocks.

Muir, who is founder of Water Action Initiative NZ and RiverWatch NZ says that that farming leaders are dreaming if they think some bureaucrat sitting in an air-conditioned office can tell farmers what to do and how to spend their money on their farms. When they have never visited the farms, no nothing about the farms management practice, the water that surrounds it or the farming community.

Farmers want to make a change and manage their farms in an environmentally sustainable manner but without sound scientific data to base farm management investment on (we are talking tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars). It is inconceivable to expect farmers or townies alike to pay for improvements that may or may not improve water quality.

Testing currently done by NIWA and regional councils is selective and incomplete with only 8-13% of rivers tested. For example, the Pahaoa River that runs around Muir’s property is used for his drinking water. The water is drawn for drinking five times per year when the river runs clear and clean. But for 75% of the year the river is turbid, foaming, or full of algae in summer. If the water was only tested when the river was running clear, the result would be very good. Yet for most of the time the river is well below any swimming or drinking quality standards.

Farmers must have robust and sound water quality data before they invest in improving water quality. They must be able to monitor and audit their own on-farm water quality easily and affordably to fully engage in water restoration. Relying on regional councils and NIWA to do this will only increase on-farm costs and not produce the data sets required for farm management.

To test water accurately, data must be collected 24/7 over extended periods of time. Current practice does not allow for this because it is expensive and New Zealand conditions make water testing difficult. RiverWatch, a farmer invention in conjunction with Victoria University, has been developed primarily to resource farmers, citizen scientists, regional councils and those engaged in water quality issues with an affordable, accurate and robust measuring system designed for New Zealand conditions. Yet to date, farming leaders have failed to engage in the development of RiverWatch and it seems, would prefer to make broad statements, and spend farmers money on PR campaigns that do little to address the requirements of those on the land.

The water quality issue in New Zealand can be easily resolved once we engage and deploy a network of monitoring systems. This will allow sound monitoring and management practice to be implemented, allowing for the generational improvement that the farming leaders are talking about. Now is the time for them to get off the fence, stop talking and start doing. RiverWatch offers a great starting point to empower the farming community with solutions rather than rhetoric from on-high.

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