New Zealand farmers have saved about $200 million in additional aviation compliance costs since December, thanks to work done by the New Zealand Agricultural Aviation Association (NZAAA) and Federated Farmers around the AIRCARE Accreditation Programme.
NZAAA is now focused on improving both pilot and environmental safety, by getting farmers to comply with the programmes' best practice standards.
Compliance with these is an important step in ensuring agricultural aviation services can continue.
AIRCARE has been running for just over 12 months and already one regional council and LandCorp require the accreditation for aerial operators.
These organisations want consistent best practice, which includes no adverse effects from aerial discharges, such as fertiliser in waterways. Importantly for the industry, it also means no aircraft accidents.
There are four areas where farmers can help pilots comply with AIRCARE.
Firstly, all regional councils require neighbours to be notified before aerial spraying, but it can be unclear who is responsible for contacting them.
Farmers need to take ownership of this and avoid the 90 per cent of alleged spray drift claims made by people who were not notified.
Pilots may treat 20 farms a day, so it is impractical for them to do this.
Secondly, while fertilisers are improving, fertiliser dust is still an issue. The Resource Management Act is clear that discharging contaminants to water is a breach, but fine dust is impossible to control. Three pilots having been fined for drifting fertiliser dust into water in the Bay of Plenty.
For pilots to predict where the product goes once released, the particles must be a suitable size to have predictable ballistics.
This costs $45 per tonne to achieve and fertiliser companies will not do it unless directed, by their farmer shareholders. The Fertmark code assuring the fertiliser's chemical make-up should also address its physical properties to eliminate the fines.
Aerial top-dressing is only sustainable as long as regional councils have insufficient resources to enforce the Resource Management Act.
The next issue is poor farmer buy-in to the Top-dressing Guideline that was developed jointly by Federated Farmers, CAA, NZAAA and the former Department of Labour.
Repeated trips to a property, because the wind will blow the fine dust the wrong way or because the bin leaks, is too small, or does not exist at all, costs the farmer dearly.
Lastly, CAA's Health and Safety in Employment Unit sent a letter to Federated Farmers last year saying stringing electric fence-feeder wires, or any other wires, across gullies then requiring aircraft to operate at low level is not providing a safe workplace.
Best practice is to tie overhead wires down to a fence so they protrude no more than one metre above the fence.
Farmers must provide safe workplaces for all contractors under the Health and Safety in Employment Act (HSE) requirements and have been given clear warning that HSE enforcement action will follow the next farm wire strike.