Farmers angry as plant tells them to dump milk

By Natalie Akoorie

Waitoa Dairy Factory. Photo / File
Waitoa Dairy Factory. Photo / File

Waitoa dairy farmers are watching thousands of litres of milk go down the drain - despite being only kilometres from a working processing plant.

One farmer, who didn't want to be named, said she dumped 5500 litres on Wednesday after a gas leak on the Maui pipeline in Taranaki forced Fonterra to shut 15 plants in Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Northland.

But she and her husband farm less than a kilometre from the Waitoa factory, halfway between Morrinsville and Te Aroha, and can't understand why their milk isn't being collected.

"Originally we were told that anybody in close proximity would be [picked up], but then we got a text saying we had to dump it.

"We've talked to three other people very close to Waitoa factory and they had to dump as well."

The couple already had a full vat containing 5500 litres, and were waiting for a tanker to arrive for that.

If it didn't, then milking their 280 cows had to be postponed and it would probably mean another milk dump.

However, northwest of the village at Tahuna, dairy farmer Grant Honeyfield said he had been one of the lucky ones because his milk had been picked up and taken to the Waitoa processing plant which was operating on coal.

Mr Honeyfield said he had not had to dump of any of the milk from the farm's 570 cows.

Te Aroha Federated Farmers chairman Stuart King said it was heartbreaking for farmers to discard milk.

"I've been rung by other farmers who are just so upset at having to dump milk. It just seems unnatural to us. We work really hard to put it in the bag and the last thing we want to see is it wasted and tipped down the drain."

A farmer at Elstow, near Te Aroha, Mr King had dumped 3000 litres and stored 7000 litres to feed 15 calves but he said the volume would be too much for them.

Mr King accepted that Waitoa factory could only take a certain amount of milk, but said it would be good to know how Fonterra decided which suppliers' milk to pick up.

Fonterra milk supply general manager Steve Murphy said the situation was not as easy as it appeared, however the farmer concerned was on the company's to-do list.

"We're doing everything we can to collect everybody's milk. It's obviously not quite as simple as it might appear in terms of trucks going past the gate," Mr Murphy said.

"We will expect to get [to] that farmer ... either tonight or tomorrow morning so that he's not burying any more than anybody else."

Yesterday Fonterra reopened its Te Rapa processing plant - but Vector, which manages the gas line, asked it to shut the site again because of a limited supply of gas.

Mr Murphy said the operation team worked hard through the night to get sites in the Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Northland processing milk again but limited gas flow meant Te Rapa, Morrinsville and Maungaturoto were closed.

Farmers with full vats after 5pm yesterday were advised to dump.

Matamata dairy farmer Ross Sainsbury said he had dumped 8000 litres by irrigating onto pasture and though he had diluted it with water, it was beginning to smell.

He was worried the milk would suppress grass growth and he hoped it wouldn't kill the grass.

He said farmers in the Fonterra co-operative including himself would probably never know the true financial loss from the dumping, but it would be averaged out over all members in the next payout.

It was estimated to be costing Fonterra $20 million a day.

Tokoroa dairy farmer Mark Ingram said he had given about 8000 litres of milk away to pig farmers.

The Waikato Regional Council said plans for milk collection at least every two days until gas supply returned to normal reduced environmental risk.

TIPPED DOWN THE DRAIN

15
plants shut in the Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Northland

15,000+
litres of milk dumped

$20m a day
the gas leak is costing Fonterra

- NZ Herald

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