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Published: 2011-07-11 00:00:00

Full year figures have confirmed that Waikato farmers made significant environmental gains last season as they, the agriculture industry and the regional council increased the focus on complying with dairy effluent management rules.

Results for 2010-11 from helicopter monitoring of farm compliance with permitted activity rules, as well as on the ground checking of consented effluent systems, showed just 12 per cent of properties were significantly non-compliant, compared to 27 per cent the year before.

Effluent management practices that contravene the rules can lead to excessive levels of nutrients and bacteria getting into waterways, posing a threat to human and animal health, as well as the general health of waterways.

Significant non-compliance is generally described as a discharge of effluent that has either entered water, or is at high risk of entering water, such as unauthorised direct discharges of effluent to drains and streams, and excessive application of effluent on to pasture.

Sixty-six per cent of farms were fully compliant with the rules in 2010-11, up significantly from 51 per cent the year before. Others were mostly compliant or partially compliant.

“So these latest figures are a much, much better result and farmers, Fonterra and the agriculture industry generally deserve a great deal of credit for the improved result,” said Waikato Regional Council compliance and education manager Rob Dragten.

“They have all worked well with us and the better figures bear out how important it is for all us to work together to lift our collective game.”

There were six helicopter monitoring flights during the 2010-11 season, with each checking on about 135 farms in selected locations, which differed from those checked in the previous season.

The percentage of farms found to be significantly non-compliant with permitted activity rules within the broad vicinity of the following areas was (in order of flight):

  • Pokeno                        13 per cent
  • Hamilton                      20 per cent
  • Otorohanga                 6 per cent
  • Morrinsville                  3 per cent
  • Matamata                    7 per cent
  • Waihi                           12 per cent

The Hamilton flight occurred shortly before the council suspended monitoring flights in recognition of the fact that exceptional rainfall had exceeded the design capacity of many effluent systems. Flights resumed when rainfall had returned to more average spring conditions.

Mr Dragten said the data indicated a range of initiatives taken by the council and the dairy sector had a positive impact, and that the challenge now is to build on this progress and lift compliance levels even further.

“The council is working closely with DairyNZ and Fonterra to this end,” said Mr Dragten.

He said the measures introduced last season to help lift compliance included:

  • An increased level of aerial monitoring by the council from about 600 farms to nearly 1000.
  • Fonterra’s ‘every farm-every year’ inspection of effluent management systems by the company.
  • The effluent compliance checklist and rules summary distributed by DairyNZ.
  • Joint effluent management field days with farmers.
  • Developing the accredited effluent supplier code of practice.
  • The development of a Waikato effluent storage calculator for helping decide on the current effluent pond capacity for each property.
  • Considerable media publicity and industry education on having effective effluent systems and complying with rules, including the highly successful Effluent Expo.

“The fact that more than one in 10 of the region’s dairy farmers attended the Effluent Expo is a real sign of how farmers have been looking to improve compliance, and they are to be congratulated on their much improved performance,” said Mr Dragten.

“We will continue to work closely with farmers to make even further gains and will remain ready to take enforcement action where required.

“It’s important that we don’t relax even though 2010-11 has been a much better year. There are a variety of factors that can affect levels of compliance and our challenge is to try to ensure that the progress we’ve made in 2010-11 is enhanced with further improvements.

“We are committed to close co-operation between the council, farmers and the wider agriculture sector to achieve that.”