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Published: 2005-04-14 00:00:00

Environment Waikato’s Regulatory Committee has recommended prosecuting two Taupo farmers for serious non-compliance with effluent rules following trials using a helicopter to monitor some farm dairy effluent systems.

The results of both the helicopter trial and a detailed effluent system compliance audit were presented at last week’s Environment Waikato Dairy Liaison Group meeting attended by more than 60 industry stakeholders, including Environment Waikato Councillors and staff, Federated Farmers, Fonterra, Dexcel, the fertiliser industry, consultants and research organisations.

The Council and farming representatives are concerned about the high level of non-compliance with dairy shed effluent rules in the Waikato after the detailed audit found 16 percent of dairy farms were seriously non-compliant and more than half the dairy farms did not comply with at least a part of the rule.

Environment Waikato Regulatory Committee Chairman Jim Howland said his Committee was disappointed that after 14 years of using education the Council now needed to take a firmer approach.

“It’s not acceptable to have this level of non-compliance. But we have a number of tools in our tool box, not just prosecution.”

Environment Waikato’s Environmental Services Programme Manager Rob Dragten said the Council was reviewing its monitoring procedures for farm effluent in the light of the survey, and had trialled helicopter surveys as one option.

“Using the helicopter was an extremely efficient way of monitoring a large number of farms in a short time. Problems with effluent systems were very evident from the air.”

Environment Waikato was already doing random audits of farming systems, where before farmers were notified before an inspector arrived and had time to clean up any problems.

“Staff are reviewing our strategy for monitoring compliance on Waikato dairy farms. We are also looking at putting in place a re-invigorated monitoring programme to deal with non compliance issues in the short term to cover the coming season.”

He had been very surprised at the number of farmers who had no understanding of the rules, including one farmer who thought it was a good idea to put effluent on paddocks in a thick layer because it killed the daisies.

“We’re working closely with Federated Farmers and Fonterra to ensure there’s good information available for farmers. The results of the audit are especially disappointing as Dexcel and Fonterra sent a new dairy effluent guidebook to all dairy farmers just before Christmas which contained a full breakdown of the rules and some excellent guidance about how to comply.”

“Ultimately, farmers need to take responsibility for ensuring their system complies at all times, and many farmers are telling us they want Environment Waikato to take a tougher line on those breaking the rules.”
Mr Dragten said feedback from farmers showed that some thought there was little risk of being caught breaking the rules and put effluent management at a low priority.

“We intend to increase the chances of them getting caught.”