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Effluent results improving, but farmers could do better

19 February 2013

Effluent results improving, but farmers could do better – NRC

Northland’s dairy farmers have received qualified praise for their increased compliance with farm dairy effluent resource standards but there’s still plenty of room for improvement, those doing the monitoring say.

The latest Northland Regional Council monitoring figures for the 2012/13 milking season show almost 80 percent of the region’s 978 dairy farms were either fully compliant with their resource consent conditions and or rules, or had only minor non-compliance.

Operations Director Tony Phipps says particularly pleasing for the council was a thirty percent drop in significant non-compliance, which fell to nearly 200 farms compared with close to 300 farms reported twelve months earlier.

He says in recent years many of the region’s farmers have invested heavily in improvements to their effluent disposal systems and it’s pleasing to see that outlay starting to pay off.

“Having said that, there are still too many Northland dairy farms where effluent management is not done well and isn’t accorded the high priority it should be. Effluent management is a crucial element in modern farming and is vital to protect the water used by all Northlanders.”

Mr Phipps says the regional council – and now the industry itself – are putting considerable effort into improving farm dairy effluent management.

“These figures will continue to improve as new/upgraded infrastructure continues to be installed on farms and farmers are coming to grips with management of their new infrastructure.”

Mr Phipps says the council believes the recent positive trend indicates it’s on the right track and says it will continue with a number of initiatives including:

• One-on-one follow-up visits to all significantly non-compliant farms
• One-on-one visits to farms where requested by their owners
• Development of effluent publications and resources for farmers
• Promotion of Effluent Management Plans tailor-made to each farm
• Taking a lead role in the Northland Effluent Improvement Project Group.

Meanwhile, he says as well as poor performance by some farmers, the robustness of Northland’s farm dairy effluent testing regime is also a factor in the region’s high non-compliance figures relative to other parts of New Zealand.

“The latest Dairy and Clean Streams Accord snapshot report is due to be officially released any day and once again shows Northland’s farmers lagging behind their counterparts nationally in terms of their compliance with resource consents and or rules.”

However, Mr Phipps – who is also the NRC’s Deputy CEO – believes it is wrong to directly compare regional results due to significant variances in the way councils carry out their respective monitoring regimes.

He says the NRC regime is among the most comprehensive in New Zealand and reflects the importance its councillors are according efforts to improve regional water quality.

“Our programme is based around on-the-ground visits to every single dairy farm in the region (978 last year) without any prior notice during the busy milking period from mid-August to late November, when any problems are most likely to occur.”

He says in contrast, some other regions:

• Warn farmers of planned inspections in advance, contrary to nationally agreed protocols, and effectively allowing any problems to be addressed before monitoring staff visit
• Only visit a portion of the farms in their region – in one case less than a third of them
• Rely on aerial sweeps of dairy farms via helicopter, rather than physically visiting them to check for compliance
• Monitor farms at times of the year when conditions are drier and more favourable

Mr Phipps says the statistics used to compile the Accord snapshot are also effectively a year out of date as they stem from the 2011/12 dairy season.

ENDS

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