Clampdown on dirty dairy farm habits

By Simon O'Rourke

Dairy farmers who consistently flout pollution standards face being shunned by milk tanker drivers, as Fonterra and regional councils throughout New Zealand join forces to clamp down on dirty farm practices.

Fonterra's new "effluent indicator system" will be introduced from the beginning of the 2007/2008 season, which starts tomorrow.

Farmers who refuse to comply with rules that prevent pollution of land and waterways may face reduced payouts from the very company they own shares in, Fonterra.

If, after three years, offending farmers are still not compliant with environmental rules, they face being shunned by Fonterra altogether. The company may refuse to pick up milk from the farm.

Fonterra director of milk supply Barry Harris said a minority of farmers in New Zealand were "letting the side down".

In a letter to the president of Waikato Federated Farmers, Peter Buckley, Mr Harris said other dairy companies also understood "the need to ensure on-farm environmental compliance to protect the integrity of New Zealand dairy industry's reputation".

He later indicated in a media release that the industry was acting before politicians did.

"If we don't act now, we face regulations being imposed on dairying that may restrict its future growth in New Zealand."

Environment Waikato, which monitors the largest number of dairy farmers and their herds in New Zealand, yesterday welcomed Fonterra's tough new approach.

Resource manager Tony Petch said Fonterra should be commended for taking a proactive approach.

The council has for the past several years used helicopter flights over the region to help identify scores of farmers who were polluting the environment.

Flights were often followed up by personal visits and prosecutions.

"The vast majority of our dairy farmers follow rules responsibly," Mr Petch said. "We are very keen to work hand-in-glove with the dairy industry on ending poor effluent management by those farmers who fail to adhere to good practices."

Regional councils throughout the country will be able to notify Fonterra about farmers who are "persistently and critically" non-compliant with effluent management rules.

These will include farmers who deliberately allow animal effluent to run into waterways or allow stock to graze near wetlands, streams, rivers or lakes.

It will also include farmers who do not comply with resource consent rules that ensure safe levels of nutrients exist on their land, minimising losses to ground and surface water.

Mr Buckley told the Herald yesterday Federated Farmers endorsed the tough new self-policing standards being introduced.

He estimated 2-3 per cent of dairy farmers would need to lift their game or they would face being isolated from the industry.


Keeping it clean

* There were 11,883 dairy herds in New Zealand last season, with 3.8 million cows.

* 71 per cent of dairy cows are located in the North Island, with more than one million animals concentrated in the greater Waikato region.

* Waikato farms also contain the highest number of waterways, which include streams, lakes, rivers, and wetlands, in the country.

* In 2003, a "clean streams accord" was signed between Fonterra, the Government, and regional councils.

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