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Published: 2014-12-12 00:00:00

A new approach to ensuring compliance with dairy effluent management rules designed to protect groundwater and waterways has been endorsed in principle by Waikato Regional Council.

The proposed new regime includes an end to helicopter monitoring of farms and routine visits by inspectors without an appointment, while increasing co-operation with the dairy sector. The plan was developed by a special working party which included councillors and industry representatives.

The working party was formed following particular farmer concerns about helicopter use, inspections without appointments and rules around the sealing of effluent storage ponds.

Councillors at their meeting yesterday agreed in principle to seven working party recommendations and asked that staff factored their implementation into upcoming long term plan deliberations.

Staff were also asked to report back on how much implementation of the recommendations would cost and also whether the council would still be able to meet its legal obligations under such a system.

The recommendations were that:

  • The council continue to monitor non-compliance with dairy effluent rules
  • The council and industry focus on making sure farms have an effluent management infrastructure so that they comply with rules all year round
  • Helicopter monitoring ceases, all routine compliance-related farm visits are done by appointment with authorised farm decision-makers, and that monitoring focuses on areas of greatest risk of non-compliance
  • The council supports voluntary industry initiatives and guidelines to help farmers be compliant
  • The council improves feedback to farmers
  • The dairy industry and the council collaborate to improve compliance
  • The industry and the council work to increase farmer awareness of compliance needs.

Fonterra representative Charlotte Rutherford said she had found the working party process “very positive and very collaborative”.

The meeting heard that the group agreed there was a need to take action against serious offenders. But it also felt that tensions caused by helicopter monitoring and visits without appointments could inhibit farmer uptake of best practice effluent management.

So there was a need to do more to encourage full compliance and adequate effluent management infrastructure by working with industry, as this could offer the greatest environmental benefits.

Working party chair Cr Alan Livingston said many farmers were doing much better with effluent management. “Significant changes have already been made, and are being made, with farm effluent systems, and at considerable cost.”

He felt “the helicopters have run their course” but he noted some farmers still couldn’t comply with rules 365 days a year. He added that if improvements weren’t made voluntarily by farmers it was possible they could face tougher rules further down the track.

Meanwhile, councillors agreed to a recommendation that staff develop the terms of reference for a new working group on the pest control toxin 1080.

The focus of such a group would be to look at how the council consented the use of 1080 in the region and alternatives to its use.

The recommendation was part of a report from the environmental performance committee which recently heard from councillors Clyde Graf and Kathy White about a range of concerns related to the use of aerial 1080.