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Published: 2010-07-27 00:00:00

Environment Waikato says it will be taking a more intensive approach to monitoring of dairy farms during the 2010-11 season.

Normally EW monitors about 15 per cent of Waikato dairy farms each year to check compliance with dairy effluent rules.

In the coming season it plans to monitor about 25 per cent.

The announcement comes as new figures show significant non-compliance with EW’s permitted activity effluent rules rose from 20 per cent of monitored farms in 2008-09 to 25 per cent last season. Permitted activity rules covers things like spreading effluent using irrigators. Significant non-compliance is defined as an event where untreated effluent has entered water or is likely to enter water given the right circumstances (such as during heavy rain).

The council’s compliance and education manager Rob Dragten said it was encouraging that re-inspections of the significantly non-compliant properties from 2009-10 show 80 per cent of the farms have already improved effluent management infrastructure or implemented management practices to reduce risk.

"However, what these 2009-10 figures do show is a concerning upswing in significant non-compliance at a time when there has been a lot of attention put on farmers lifting their game," said Mr Dragten.

"We are about to start monitoring again for the new season and we expect compliance with our rules. Our stepped up level of monitoring means more farms can expect to be visited.

"We believe the rate of significant non-compliance in our region is mainly due to effluent management systems problems rather than farmers deliberately flouting the rules. These problems often involve inadequate storage and poor containment facilities for effluent and sludges. Another common problem is irrigators applying effluent too heavily, either because they are not shifted, they are moving too slowly or because of poor maintenance on the nozzles.

"We are very supportive of Fonterra’s plan to do effluent system appraisals on every farm in the Waikato this year, as we hope this will help farmers identify any shortcomings with effluent management infrastructure."

Mr Dragten said Dairy NZ was available to provide advice and assistance to farmers, as were farm consultants. Fonterra has a network of sustainable dairying advisors who can provide help and assistance to their suppliers. Also, in conjunction with Fonterra and Dairy NZ, copies of EW’s effluent compliance checklist are being sent to all dairy farmers in the region shortly.

"The aim is that every farmer will use the checklist to audit their own system and use that information to fix any problems before we come across them.

"We believe that working with the likes of Fonterra and DairyNZ is the key to achieving a long lasting improvement in effluent system compliance."

Another measure is that EW is getting Massey University to develop a calculator that can provide a guide to farmers on the factors that should be considered when constructing an effluent pond for storage of effluent that is to be applied to land.

"Following the rules is important for environmental protection, particularly the health of our waterways, given that poor effluent management can boost bacteria and nutrient levels in water with negative consequences.

"Farmers, industry organizations and suppliers, and EW will all need to work together closely to lift compliance levels," said Mr Dragten.