Dairy farmers respond to Mike Joy's warning about fresh water quality, say roll-back to pre-farming state an unrealistic goal. Your view?

Dairy farmers respond to Mike Joy's warning about fresh water quality, say roll-back to pre-farming state an unrealistic goal. Your view?

By Mike Scarsbrook*

Ignoring the emotive language of Dr Mike Joy’s article on the farming impacts on water quality, it is an indisputable fact that waterways in catchments dominated by agriculture and urban land use have poorer water quality and lower ecological health compared to waterways draining native forest.

When you strip away native vegetation, drain swamps, cover land in concrete, or graze introduced animals on exotic pastures you can expect to see significant changes in water flows, erosion rates, nutrient cycles, light and temperature regimes and resultant shifts in the types and numbers of plants and animals that you find in a waterways in that catchment.

You cannot have a highly-modified catchment that functions in the same way as a natural catchment.

The greatest challenge facing New Zealand is in defining what a stream, lake, aquifer or estuary draining a highly-modified catchment should look like.

That is, where do we draw the line between what is acceptable, or unacceptable in terms of water quality or water quantity and ecosystem health.

The National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management provides national direction to Regional Councils on how and when environmental bottom-lines or limits need to be set.

The NPS also makes it clear that the local community should play a central role in setting these limits, because they are well placed to manage the trade-offs between social, cultural, economic and environmental values that inevitably need to be made in managing natural resources.

The local community bears the majority of the costs and reaps most of the benefits of maintaining and improving water quality, so it is appropriate they have a significant role in limit-setting.

From a dairy industry perspective we fully support the limit setting process dictated in the NPS on Freshwater Management. Having communities define the water quality outcomes they want is a healthy and desirable attribute of a mature and reasonable society.

Farmers, as part of the community want clear direction on what is acceptable and not acceptable.

Furthermore, the dairy industry is fully committed to supporting farmers to meet the limits or constraints a fully-informed community deems appropriate.

We are already involved in these debates throughout New Zealand. In Canterbury, for example, the regional council is working with the community to determine appropriate limits and plans for different river management zones.

There will inevitably be disagreements on the details of methods and pace of change, but the engagement of all sectors of the community in the debate is laudable and encouraging.

I suspect that a New Zealand under Dr Joy’s benign dictatorship would look very different to a New Zealand where environmental, social, cultural and environmental values are weighed up by the communities that then have to live, work and recreate within defined water limits.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Dr Mike Scarsbrook is a sustainability specialist at DairyNZ, the industry-good organisation representing New Zealand’s dairy farmers. www.dairynz.co.nz

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

We welcome your comments below. If you are not already registered, please register to comment.

Remember we welcome robust, respectful and insightful debate. We don't welcome abusive or defamatory comments and will de-register those repeatedly making such comments. Our current comment policy is here.

36 Comments

Comment Filter

Highlight new comments in the last hr(s).

Mike Joy's piece is simply "State of Fear' stuff (pace Michael Crichton - the book is still a good read for its exposition of the fear-inducing process inherent to the Green Religion).
 
Whereas the overriding question and its corollary are well posed in the DairyNZ article:

  • What are the appropriate, local trade-offs between economic sustainability (at a stated level of comfort), and environmental condition?
  • And just how are these determined, and by whom?

 
The Canterbury example is particularly instructive, because of the woeful performance of the elected body in the 19 years of its existence:  no water plan, no way to state let alone determine the trade-offs, an elected body split exactly equally rural/urban.  Inevident result, complete stasis, during a period where farming changed very dramatically.
 
Something had to give, and the disestablishment of the elected members has broken the log-jam:

  • Local zoning committes and areas determined/appointed/hard at work.
  • Balance of views on said committees:  farmers, conservators, interest groups (fish&game, recreational users etc, iwi (big players in Canterbury), etc
  • Trade-offs being sought and limits imposed, but with the essential ingredient of local, widespread agreement, which has a high probability of sticking.

 
Whereas, poor old Joy has no reasonable, localised, acceptable path to the Promised Land.....no Joy, in fact.
 

The Canterbury example is particularly instructive, because of the woeful performance of the elected body in the 19 years of its existence:  no water plan, no way to state let alone determine the trade-offs, an elected body split exactly equally rural/urban.  Inevident result, complete stasis, during a period where farming changed very dramatically.
 
My retort is clear: "No taxation without representation" - if you want fascism take it elsewhere.

The local community bears the majority of the costs and reaps most of the benefits of maintaining and improving water quality, so it is appropriate they have a significant role in limit-setting.
 
Do they?
 
My aged, ailing parents are diluting their leagacy to me paying extraordinary rates to redress the pollution afflicting lake Taupo - they don't swim, fish or boat. Never have. Why do the outcomes always negatively impact the meek disproportionately while the powerful reap the reward? - think carbon credits - Harvard investment Fund - forests - taxpayer losses
 
Note I live elsewhere - the dismal atmosphere of low decile income communities being pillaged disgusts me. 

Yes you are correct Stephen, perhaps if I detail it for the masses. The likes of Waikato ratepayers have Environment Waikato rates to pay. Amongst these rates is a bill for the clean up of Lake Taupo. In the meantime our biggest dairy farmer Colin Armer has purchased from the government land all around the western side of the lake, then bought the rights to continue fertlilizing like mad, and has built an empire of dairy farms. Where previously landcorp, aka the New Zealand taxpayer, use to farm angus cows and romney ewes...sparsely. Helen Clark did this under her watch. The great saviour of the south island hill country??? couldnt have given a rats about Lake Taupo.

And in the meantime with carbon credits so cheap to buy overseas, forest to dairy is back on the table. Wairakei Pastoral and Landcorp are back at it again.

I note Harvard has put the forests up for sale now the easy dosh is taken.

Gosh you are a complicated soul Mist, I am finding it difficult to keep up.

As sharemilkers we received a booklet entitled The Fonterra Way, I think that's what it was, cant check cause I binned it. Basically as you say mist it's someone on high trying to micro manage the farms. I found it particularly  galling as the same week a Fonterra spokesman was saying in effect that they would support a farmowner in his fraudulent criminal  activity to the determent of a sharemilker because the sharemilking agreement was between the owner and sharemilker and nothing to do with Fonterra.
As you say mist when the shit hits the fan your on your own.

So, compulsorily paying for complete incompetence (no opt-outs allowed) but With Representation (of a sort), is better than/different to paying for local zoning committees (the Representation for that Taxation, btw) but directed by a nomenklatura of Commish?
 
I woulda thunk that the Commish would have actually appealed to the Green Totalitarians....central direction, clear focus, no messy rural wealth producer vs urban know-nothing consumer electoral splits.
 
In fact, I think that many of youse common taters are blissfully ignorant of the huge impact of iwi in the Canterbury mix - their aspirations for the landholdings and employment for their youth, and their long-term and absolutely culturally important concern over the health of waterbodies.
 
P'raps y'all need to get outside (the cultural bubble) more.

Nice try, Kate.
 
Getting more from the same resource (rainfall, waterbodies, land - none of which is being changed as to inputs) is called Greater Productivity.
 
And conflating a Productive, Tradeable enterprise (farming, seeds and horticulture, the three mainstays of the Plains) which constitute Tax Producers, with a motley bunch of Tax Consumers in the city, is not the neat debtaing trick yer may think.
 
The Former supports the Latter, and enhancing the productivity of the Former is, by my reckoning, a Good Thang.
 
Isn't it?

Isn't it?
I am not qualified to know.
 
But if it's for private use and will produce taxes then let those hoping to generate the income pay for the requisite capital expenditure because I stand to make nil out of it and yet incur an up front charge against my own income in the form of higher taxes to build this infrastructure in the first instance.
 
Lets move away from socialising the costs while privatising the profits. If the deal is good private enterprise will build it outright, if not lets drop it.

Exactly.

Having trouble here Kate - what has a loan to an irrigation scheme got to do with children in poverty? Any media releases I have seen state that the government expects any contribution/grants from it to irrigation schemes have to be paid back by those using it.

See here;
http://www.mpi.govt.nz/environment-natural-resources/funding-programmes/irrigation-acceleration-fund
 
Taxpayer fund $35m.  Don't see anything about need to pay it back.
 
It's a subsidy.  Same as the Government kicking in $10m for the Dunedin covered stadium and subsidising the film industry.  Haven't seen so much 'picking winners' from central government since the Muldoon era. 

Stand corrected Kate.  I thought I read in a farming mag that Carter said it had to be paid back. Can't find a link though. :-)
 
Is there anything that the government supports that isn't a subsidy to some sector of society? ;-)

Waymad I think you are saying that maori are doing a good job. Bit hard to understand. I hope so, they have got so big in farming I can only hope they do a better job than the whiteys. I do wonder where the profits go. Actually I wonder if they have been suckered into white mans debt. And will suffer when white men (and brown) have oil no longer. I would like to see Maori leading the way with answers to farming without high oil input. Seeing they are coming off a low debt basis, it could have been possible, but now in my area they are surely competing leverage wise with every other dork.

I'd like to see them leading the way in social assistance.

Perhaps Belle you could lead the charge for:  I would like to see Maori leading the way with answers to farming without high oil input. Don't expect others to do it for you. ;-)

Careful aboot dese assumptions, Belle.
 
Cannot speak about 'Maori'.  As the Kingitanga folks have just found, regarding water rights and interests, there are only iwi and hapu.  No national structure.
 
Y'all will notice that I have been scrupulous in saying 'iwi' and South Island'.
 
A- because that's what I know about
B - because my instinct tells me they are leading the way nationally.  Other iwi are in catch-up or totally diverted mode IMHO.
 
As to 'debt', that's easily ascertained with a leetle Googlerizing.:
SFP for Ngai Tahu
Notes to the SFP
By my 5-second go on the nearest ciggy packet, that's a ratio of - um - under 20% debt to equity.$127m term liabs, $658 equity for the lazier types in common tater land.
 
Not a bet-the-farm position, I t'ink?
 
And anyone who's listened to Mark Solomon will be in no doubt as to the patient, long-term view NT take as to quality, management and restoration of waterbodies.....
 
Local knowledge does trump vague generalisations, eh?

"The NPS also makes it clear that the local community should play a central role in setting these limits, because they are well placed to manage the trade-offs between social, cultural, economic and environmental values that inevitably need to be made in managing natural resources.:
This seems like  particuallarly softly softly approach to water quality. Tentative, consultative?
Seems to me self interest would be the main driver of this approach, so a mainly "self ineterested many" can impose lesser standards on the few.
These are weasel words to me. The NPS need to grow a pair, and develop a good national standard.
I can see the attraction of the consultative approach for the self interested parties where the line can be "negotiated".
A poor riposte by Mike Scarsbrook to speak to Mike Joys fine article
.

Without community/stakeholder buy in nothing will work long term.  It is as simple as that. What Auckland may want for it's water quality may be different to what Timaru wants.

Community buy-in - so that's why democratic elections were suspended for two terms in Canty? 

That council was moribound with parochialism. For almost 19 years the environment was in limbo.  Look at what has happened now once the egos were taken out of the equation - real  consultation with community groups looking to make decisions via collaboration. Yes, it was a bit of a shock to some to have a commission appointed but as waymad has stated, the current governance structure has delivered more in a shorter time than the elected people did in 19 years.
 
One of the good things to come out of disestablishing the old ECan was to make other Councils realise that they have to work with the community to find a solution, not being so obsessed with their personal agendas that no progress is made.
 
Environment Southland  (who have no elected dairy farming councillors) have what they call Land and Water 2020.  It has a steering group  representative of the local community - whose purpose is to 'advise Council on how to progress aspects of Land & Water 2020'. Where possible the group operates by consensus, but if there is no consensus, then dissenting views are noted and reported to the Council, when the Steering Groups recommendations are reported to Council. I understand that ECan uses similar type of group now.  I don't have a problem with regional councils being a mix of locals and appointees.  As is shown by some of the comments I see on this site regarding water quality,  a lot of people have no understanding of how hydrology works and what the differing impacts are on different soils/conditions etc
 
You asked previously Kate about reducing stocking rate. ES have put an answer up to a similar question to yours here: http://www.es.govt.nz/media/20742/wal-2020-faq.pdf

Are you referring to this answer to the stocking rate question?
 
Q: Why aren’t you looking specifically at stocking rate or intensity?
A: The main reason for nitrate leaching is nitrate excretion from cow urine. So for a fixed amount of feed on two different farms producing a similar total volume of milk solids, the amount of urinary N excreted will be similar whether it be 2.5 cows/ha or 3.0 cows/ha. A farmer may also have standoff pads that are used during spring and autumn, thus minimising loss of urinary nitrate.
 
You see that as an answer?  All that tells me is one more half cow makes little difference!  Just because there might be enough feed for 2.5 vs 3 cows per hectare of land - the response makes no reference to environmental cost.  That is the weakest excuse for an answer to that question that I have EVER seen. 
 
I'm curious as to your meaning regards:  "For almost 19 years the environment was in limbo".  What's an environment in limbo - one for which no further exploitation occurred? 

That stocking rate comment is a result of science - ES accepted the science and it is meant as a simple answer. That you see your knowledge as more superior than the scientists at ES is fine Kate. So Kate what is the enviromental cost?
 
An environment in limbo is one in which the regulatory powers failed to manage properly. They should have had a water plan for a start - but they didn't.  How can they claim to be concerned about water when they didn't have a water plan? Meanwhile the environment starts to suffer.  We came through Canterbury recently.  I am always somewhat saddened to be coming through such a treeless landscape - it could have been avoided. 

People nation wide have long adhered to the same rules, there are 1000's of examples of this. Are the humans in Auckland and Timaru somehow genetically different?
My main concern is that "self interested" parties may have more lax standards for water due to them being the polluters.
I think community input is rquired but on a national level. We certainly dont want the hi-jacking of the community input by the likes of the new ECAN board in cant.
The current govt does not trust local democracy in CHCH as they have installed the CWMS.
The usual rights of the appeal court have been suspended so no appeal on say nutrient levels are possible in chch, an irony in this discussion to be sure.
I would favour scientific input in preferance to political input, which is in danger of bulldozing thru in order to get the job done.

In Auckland it may be that they want great swimming beaches -e.g. specific beaches may be banned from having sewage and stormwater outflows on them.  In Timaru it may be that fishing rivers have priority, with an acceptance that there will be council outflows on the beaches.
 
The RMA requires equal consideration be given to environmental, economic and social issues when deciding environmental policy. An example of this is the mills in Kawerau being given consent to continue to 'pollute' the Tarawera River as the economic and social cost of not having the mills would outweigh any degradation of the river - according to the Environment appeal commissioners.
 
Locally here the council wants to clean up the dioxin contamination in the Te Rahu canal.  It is legacy contamination from a timber treatment plant nearby, decades ago. But the majority of locals living near the proposed dump sites are against it.  Yet these same people live near the dioxin contaminated stream and are aware that eels in the canal contain unacceptable levels of dioxin. http://www.whakatanebeacon.co.nz/cms/news/2012/09/art100012578.php
 
At the National Wetland Symposium this year the question was asked by more than one speaker 'what does pristine mean? Who defines what it means?'
The other question posed, by a scientist, was 'who decides what is a 'high' nutrient level?'  As a farmer, I found the deafening silence by the audience made up of scientists, govt agencies, etc interesting.  At no time during the 3 day symposium was an answer given to those questions.  Largely, I believe, because in some cases, the more science discovers, the more questions are left.
 
Yes everyone says they want good water quality - but tell them it will cost them personally, and sometimes the 'issues' they had, just don't seem so bad anymore. ;-)

The RMA requires equal consideration be given to environmental, economic and social issues when deciding environmental policy.
 
No it doesn't.  Early case law determined that;
 
"The method of applying Section 5 then involves an overall broad judgement of whether a proposal would promote the sustainable management of natural and physical resources.  That recognises that the Act has a single purpose. Such a judgement allows for comparison of conflicting considerations and the scale or degree of them, and their relative significance or proportion in the final outcome" (Ao86/96).
 
Which opened the way for tradeoffs and compromises.  There is no "equal" weighting whatsoever .. meaning if the economic benefits outweigh the environmental and/or social harm - a proposal can proceed.   Simple as that.   The legislation has no environmental bottom lines - decisions are based on an "overall broad judgement".
 
Nothing "equal" about it!

Yes, it was a bit of a shock to some to have a commission appointed but as waymad has stated, the current governance structure has delivered more in a shorter time than the elected people did in 19 years.
 
CO, I guess it was when the demand for regional rates were not suspended along with the duly elected council. I also guess those opposing the current outcomes would have to take up arms since democracy has been suspended in favour of fascism. The current governance structure type has a history of delivering violent outcomes if they persist in getting their way without the consent of those paying. Such a mess.

Just curious Stephen - do you live in Canterbury?
 
 

Who wants to know?

just me being curious Stephen.  It appears waymad lives in the region, from his posts.  I was just wondering if we are seeing two differing views from Cantabs or if your view, like mine, is from someone outside the region. Nothing sinister in the request and no problem if you choose not to answer. :-)

Lindsay Lewis from Invercargill has developed an Ultra Low Application system for applying Dairy Effluent, which doesn't require these Huge Storage Ponds which Dairy Farmers are having to install . They can be as Large as 60 - 90 & Now 120 Days of Effluent .
Where as Lindsay's system can apply the Effluent to the Pasture @ as Low as  .025 mm / 24 hrs even when it's raining . Plus he has developed the use of Green Wash which is using  the Liquid from his small Concrete weeping wall pond to recirculate back to wash the yard on the bottom of the Backing Gate . Saving 60% in Clean Water usage.
Lindsays storage is in the Weeping wall Pond which is kept as dry as possible . The Liquid is pumped into 2 x 33Litre Plastic Tanks first for the Green Wash & second used for the Effluent Spraying which is fully Automated. The Pod system in the paddocks is also fully Automated & only needs to be shifted every 28 days this saves a Lot of Man Hours and takes the pressure off the Pasture !
Check it out on www.cleangreeneffluent.co.nz

Just to clarify for those outside of dairying:
Weeping walls, in their various designs, have been around for a while. It is great to see Lindsay lining his pond in concrete - not all do.
Some farmers also use mechanical separation which acheives the separation of solids and liquid. 
In sensitive catchments in Southland, Environment Southland (ES) requires low application systems i.e. pods instead of travelling irrigators.  There are many different brands of pods on the market. We use two different brands of pods one plastic, one galvanised steel - we are interested to see what, if any, difference there is between the two re maintenance, longevity etc.  While travelling irrigators maybe capable of applying up to 50mm of effluent, I would respectfully suggest that if effluent was applied at that level, the farmer would be in breach of their resource consents.  ES has a contractor check every farmers travelling irrigator output every year (Another bouquet for ES - a lot of regional councils do not :-) ) A condition of our (and all new consents in Southland) consent is that effluent cannot be applied earlier than 10days after the paddock has been grazed by stock. 
To only shift pods every 28 days as Lindsay is advocating, even on a low application system, it would mean a farmer would have to be on a 38+ day grazing rotation - this would not be possible on the vast majority of farms all year round.
Green wash is also used in the industry.  It can depend on cowshed setup as there are OSH rules around when staff need to wear masks while it is operating. Our saving of clean water would be only 20% under a green wash system, not the 60% Lindsay states - again it can come down to the way staff use water in the cowshed.
Anti-siphoning devices are becoming more common in the industry today, as are fail safe devices which shuts off the pump in case of pressure changes and GPS managed effluent irrigation is also becoming more common.
Soil mositure has now become a critical condition in when you can apply effluent. Soil moisture monitors are now becoming more common - some even required as a consent condition.  These tell farmers what, if any, level of irrigation can be applied - rain, hail or shine.
Technology in the last two years has changed quite dramatically the way effluent systems can be managed.  There are many different systems out there that enables a farmer to comply with their consent, but as all farms are not the same, what effluent system suits one farm, may not suit another.
 

The problem with the ECan council prior to them be undemocratically ousted a few years ago was not that they were dysfunctional but more that they reflected that actually divide present in our society in terms of those people who what to maintain the environment in its current state and those who want to develop it with potentially (in some inescapable) damaging consequences environmentally. The new governance at ECan has not magically resolved this reality but have been able to ignore it as they do not stand for any particular constituency. They have been free to enact what policy had been formulated under the old council and have been successful in doing this because that was their main focus initially. This has been largely good in my opinion but I worry about the sustainability of the decisions now being made by the commissioners without proper democratic debate (not to say that the level of debate previously was at all perfect).
On the whole I believe that the commissioners are good people who want to do a good job. They do have some scope in their roles, as I see it, to follow their own conscience and make fair and well thought out decisions. I have seen evidence of this. My concerns lie with their longer term plans, namely pursuing the national parties agenda of more economic development at any cost. That is there main aim plain and simple and that scares me. In this area the national government is waging war on all fronts. Since they got into power they have put pressure on all parties who’s role is to speak up for the environment in the RMA process including the continued restructuring and budget cutting at DOC, the ECan Act, to their already implemented changes to the RMA and their even scarier phase two changes where they will probably remove the need to protect salmon and trout reducing Fish and Games ability to speak up for the environment. Who the hell is left?  No one but iwi and Forest and Bird and they are stretched thin already. And this is just what they are doing openly, who knows going on behind closed doors.
In my view, the commissioners at ECan are pursuing the national parties agenda in Canterbury through what is called the CWMS. The CWMS was put forward as a collaborative approach to determine community acceptable (and therefore sustainable) development and environmental bottom lines. This was to be and is being accomplished through what are known as zone committees, which are made up of local community members and resource stakeholders selected by ECan. In all there are 10 zones within Canterbury.
Now in theory this process sounds great but consensus achieving collaboration is an art (or maybe an impossibility in this case) which takes real care, time and resources. The greatest risk is that the process will be hijacked by those with a financial interest in the outcome. Do you think that it is in National Parties interest to ensure that this care is taken? They can achieve what they want and look like they are doing it in a community minded way (hey it’s a collaborative process, the community has decided) by ensuring that real care is not taken (who is really going to know or care for that matter) for instance by requiring committees to come to a decision in a short timeframe even though consensus has not been reached. Oh wow that’s exactly what is happening. They could carry on with the process even though the majority of the Canterbury population, the part of the population who is more likely to be pro-environment, is still recovering from the ongoing effects of earthquakes and have their minds on other things. Oh wow, this is happening as well. Rather than doing their best to ensure that the committee has a balanced range of views which accurately reflects wider community interests they could just choose from the people who apply to be on a committee and leave it at that even when the majority is pro-development. Shit no way,  thisn is happening as well. From what I am seeing and hearing it appears that this is just the tip of the iceberg.