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Published: 2005-09-28 00:00:00

Environment Waikato has just started using a helicopter to spot those dairy farmers who are polluting the region’s waterways with effluent.

“The helicopter monitoring is the latest phase of our drive to improve effluent management on farms” said Environment Waikato’s Complaints and Enforcement Manager, Rob Dragten. “Compliance with effluent rules is one of the five cornerstones of the Dairying and Clean Streams Accord, and one of our commitments to the Accord was to enforce the rules fairly and consistently.”

“The eye-in-the-sky approach, which has just begun, allows us to quickly and efficiently monitor compliance with a whole range of regulations, although at present we are focusing mainly on dairy effluent systems”.

Problems identified from the air are being followed up with ground inspections and where there are illegal discharges to water, polluters are receiving infringement notices as a minimum. The first week of monitoring has been positive, with most farmers found to be complying, but some farmers have acknowledged that their effluent management was not up to scratch, and have accepted that infringement notices are coming their way.

The infringement notice fines carry a penalty of $750 and can apply to farm staff, as well as farm owners or sharemilkers – because they are targeted at the person who is actually polluting, as well as the person who authorised the pollution.

Barry Harris, Director Fonterra Milk Supply, said the company urged its farmers to ensure compliance with current regulations and supported measures that would further assist in educating farmers about environmental responsibilities.

Environment Waikato’s campaign to stop dairy effluent pollution is part of a process combining education and enforcement. The approach has involved Waikato Federated Farmers, as well as dairy companies Fonterra and Tatua, and dairy extension specialists Dexcel in developing information resources for farmers.

“In the last twelve months, Environment Waikato has worked with industry representatives to produce both a guidebook on the options for treating effluent responsibly, and a plain-english guide to the rules. These have been sent to every Fonterra and Tatua supplier in the Region”, said Mr Dragten “We are grateful for the support of the industry in providing farmers the information they need to comply.”

Mr Dragten said that some farmers were still not picking up on the education resources that have been produced, and that the Council was now having to step up its enforcement of the rules.

“Rules about effluent disposal have been in place for more than a decade now. Many farmers have spent a lot of money, time and effort to treat their effluent appropriately and they are telling us that they want the rules enforced on those farmers not pulling their weight.”

The Federated Farmers are backing the clean-up campaign.

“We don’t support reckless polluters,” says Waikato Federated Farmers’ president, Peter Buckley. “So those farmers not complying will need to lift their game – because they are giving the rest of us a bad name.”