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Dairy accord report highlights need for improvement

The latest snapshot of Waikato dairy farmer compliance with regional council effluent management rules shows the importance of the council working with farmers to improve the situation, says Environment Waikato.

The council’s comments come as the 2008-09 report of the Dairy and Clean Streams Accord has released nationwide figures for last season. The Waikato’s 2008-09 figures, previously made public by EW in January, showed 20 per cent of monitored farms were significantly non-compliant with the council’s rules. That compared to 10 per cent the previous season, 15 per cent in 2006-07 and 23 per cent in 2005-06.

But the council says its own figures at least indicate rule breaches at the most serious end of the scale dropped slightly last season, with just five prosecutions undertaken by EW as a result of monitoring in 2008-09. That compares with seven prosecutions in 2007-08.

"There will always be some variability in significant non-compliance levels from year to year due to factors like the weather," said compliance and education manager Rob Dragten.

"For example, the lower 10 per cent figure in 2007-08 came during a dryer season, when it is less likely that effluent ponding, for example, will be visible to inspections given that the ground will soak things up quicker."

Mr Dragten said that despite the rise in significant non-compliance statistics last year "our overall impression is that offending at the most serious end of the scale is dropping and that, when farmers are being told to sort things out, they are getting on with it more promptly".

Mr Dragten said it was encouraging that Fonterra and EW were working together closely on solutions to non-compliance.

"We have also supported the industry in the development of a code of practice for effluent system design so that farmers can have certainty that systems they install are capable of complying with the rules.

"We are committed to a strong partnership with farmers and their representatives when it comes to addressing these issues.

"It’s important for the health of our waterways to ensure that effluent is being managed in a way that protects the environment for its own sake, and to ensure the health of the natural resources that farming itself depends on. We really need farmers who aren’t performing properly to lift their game."

Mr Dragten welcomed recent moves by Fonterra to start visual checks of their suppliers’ dairy effluent infrastructure on farm so as to help ensure compliance with regional council rules. A pilot is due to start in the Waikato this month before the checks are rolled out nationally from the start of the new financial year. Waikato is being targeted first as, due to staffing constraints, EW is only able to monitor about 15 per cent of the region’s dairy farms annually.

"Fonterra’s efforts will add significantly to our collective efforts to improve compliance. The co-op deserves credit for taking this step to help ensure better compliance rates in the Waikato."

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