Northland dairy farmers are showing an improvement with managing farm dairy effluent, according to the latest figures compiled by the Northland Regional Council.
There are about 800 dairy farms in Northland, with an average herd size of 319. Northland's subtropical weather, with torrential rain events, holds special challenges for dairy farmers.
The latest report from the NRC shows 85 per cent of dairy farms are either fully or mostly compliant with their management of effluent. Fully compliant farms were 66 per cent which was a 5 per cent improvement.
Significant non-compliant farms had shown a 2 per cent improvement on last year and most years have seen a consistent improvement over the past decade.
Northland Regional Council monitoring staff visit all dairy farms every year to check that farmers are keeping to the rules, and visits are timed to be at the most challenging times of the year during the wet winter/spring months.
Compliance monitoring manager Tess Dacre said farmers did not get any notice of an inspection. NRC staff could visit at any time and farmers were expected to have well maintained dairy effluent systems which had been designed to cope with sudden large rain events as that was a part of farming in Northland.
There were fewer farm managers who were significantly non-compliant this year.
She said a lot of the non-compliances were due to poor management which could be avoided if farmers were more diligent about routinely checking all components of their effluent systems.
For example, when the travelling irrigator is operating, someone should be checking it every half hour. Someone should be walking around the ponds at least once a week – just to check pipework and make sure pipes were not blocked.
Another important message for farmers is that if they increase their stock numbers or change their milking regime then they should be notifying the NRC and assessing whether their effluent infrastructure needs upgrading.
Dacre said summer and autumn was a good time to sort out pond systems so that they are empty going into winter. This would buy some time before they need to start irrigating.
Empty ponds going into winter would mean they should get through calving and early spring (when it is often wet) without having to irrigate – and would take pressure off staff at their busiest time.
Races should not be used for standoff or feeding out.
Farmers used a variety of methods to manage dairy effluent, and the NRC encouraged a move toward hybrid systems of pond and land application so that nutrients are restored to the land.
The NRC issues infringement notices of $750 fines for non-compliance and has been prepared to take some particularly serious offenders to court. Two dairy farmers were sentenced last week in the Whangārei District Court before an Environment Court judge.
One manager received community service while a farm owner was fined about $74,000.
Dacre said this was a reminder that farm owners hold the ultimate responsibility for their farm operations, whether or not they live on farm.