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Mike Joy calls on the dairy industry to nail their environmental colours to the mast and stop indulging in blame, denial and excuses. Your view?

Rural News
Mike Joy calls on the dairy industry to nail their environmental colours to the mast and stop indulging in blame, denial and excuses. Your view?

By Mike Joy*

A few months back New Zealand’s dairy farming industry players mounted another attempt to block the legislation intended to save the Manawatu River from further degradation.

A few years ago dairy industry groups including Federated Farmers, Fonterra, and Dairy New Zealand managed to thwart the implementation of the River protecting plan, Horizons Regional Council ‘One-plan’.

However, that was overturned with a recent environment court decision to reinstate the legislation.

The One-plan approach was motivated by a requirement to do something about the degraded state of the Manawatu River.

The region has long been the butt of travel guide jokes, and the negative publicity around its polluted river added to the already poor reputation of the region. 

The bad publicity eventually drove the Regional Council to come up with a scientifically robust plan to reduce nutrient losses from farming as this is the major cause of most of the problems for the River. 

The resulting ‘One-plan’ was courageous and novel, a regional attempt to do something about the freshwater crisis facing New Zealand.

However, the farming industry saw it as potentially the thin end of the wedge, legislation to be ‘stamped out’ before it spread to other councils.

Consequently, they threw everything they had at stopping it, eventually succeeding in diluting the strategy into ineffectiveness during the plan setting process. 

Two years of expensive and hard work by Fish and Game and the Department of Conservation through an appeal to the environment court saw the plan restored.  In his decision the judge voiced very unambiguous and strong findings in favour of the river guardians and praised their clear scientific evidence revealing the causes of the degradation of the River, and the protections in the One-plan. 

The plan reinstatement was a win for the environment but also for farmers as they would have more certainty and could go forward to a more sustainable future whilst being allowed time to make changes.  As the judge pointed out; many studies presented at the hearing showed that reducing inputs and nutrient losses mean increased profitability for farmers, thus, the minor changes required in the plan could result in more profitability.

The changes required by the plan are essential to make dairy farming sustainable while simultaneously limiting the decline of rivers, lakes and groundwater.

By simply imitating nature and cycling nutrients instead of allowing them to leave the farm and pollute waterways, the plan will reduce expenditure and make farms more sustainable both economically and environmentally. 

The present-day extreme intensification of dairy farming practised in New Zealand gives rise to the loss of precious, expensive, irreplaceable resources such as nutrients and soils.

Obviously this cannot be allowed to continue.

The transition will not be easy, especially on heavily indebted farms. It is however an inescapable reality and consequently it would be preferable that it is a managed retreat rather than waiting for the inevitable crash.

The world is becoming more and more aware that our clean - green claim (crucial to all our primary produce sales) is little more than a tourist poster image. The future of this country depends on truly sustainable farming; an aspirational clean – green image will not suffice. 

Given this pressing need for sustainability, recent claims by Agriculture Minister David Carter and Federated Farmers Connor English that the One-plan should not go ahead because its implementation would cost Manawatu farmers 20 – 40% of their profits is appalling.  

If as claimed, complying with the minimal requirements of the One-plan will cost farmers so much, then it follows that almost half of their profits must come from being allowed to pollute waterways.  Or does the dairy industry expect the rest of society to subsidise their businesses by allowing the continued degradation of the Manawatu River?

The challenge for the New Zealand dairy industry is to nail their environmental colours to the mast.

They must stop indulging in blame, denial and excuses.

Instead of wasting time fighting legislation like the One-plan it is crucial for all New Zealanders that they get on with becoming genuinely sustainable, so we can start to claw back the right to claim that we are clean and green. 


Dr. Mike Joy is a senior lecturer in Ecology and Environmental Science at the Ecology group in the Institute of Natural Resources Massey University, Palmerston North. He researches and teaches freshwater ecology, especially freshwater fish ecology and distribution, ecological modelling bioassessment and environmental science. You can contact him here »

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I'm afraid that there is too much hyperbole and self-advertisement in all this, to be taken seriously.


An example:

" loss of precious, expensive, irreplaceable resources such as nutrients and soils"


As any farmer knows, soil can be created from a combination of pasture, animal excrement, sunlight, billions of microbes and other small beasties, and time.


Working example:  Te Pirita, which was Strugglers Flat for a century and a half until the Selwyn Plantation Board, tired of the ETS hoo-ha, mulched every single one of their downland planations, sold it for dairy, and with the application of mucho dihydrogen monoxide, the dairy farmers made those dry stony plains Verdant Grasslands.


Mr Joy is an academic, and seems to be quite disconnected from the forces acting to promote and enact sustainability:  iwi, farmers, councils and communities.   His alarmism is more a symptom of a rage against or discomfort with, the very sources of his income - taxes on wealth creation - than a serious prescription, done in a connected-up fashion.


But, of course, I may be quite mistaken.


Mike Joy was the Manawatu Standard's person of the year for 2012. The award was not given for being a great perception manager. The Standard's logic then appears applicable on this thread. Their first three paragraphs went:


The Manawatu Standard person of the year is a polarising figure. The past year was not the first time Mike joy has come under fire for daring to speak out about the state of New Zealand's environment.


It is a message not everyone wants to hear, and certainly not one everryone agrees with.


But what is not under dispute is that Dr Joy is a passionate advocate for the environment, and has stood up for his views in the face of withering criticism.


From what I read Dr Joy in his article is making a case for sound agricultural production economics.


Do you have the knowledge to engage on that?


Adolph Hitler was Time Magazine's 'Man of the Year' in 1938 and Stalin got that 1939 and 1942.

'Person of the Year' does not sanctify a person, just that they had an impact.  

Joy is an obsessive who hates dairy farming and that is as obvious as the facial hair on his face.   

Amazingly he is dead quiet on the protections afforded to introduced trout that are an apex predator in our water and then he is really, really quiet on Lake Rotorua's improvement. 

He is the worse kind of academic that gets an income thanks to the industry he hates.

If he had the strength of his convictions he would lave Massey and stand for the Greens,. but doing that would rob him of the protection academia provides.


Agree with you there waymad - Miss Taken or not ;-)


Mike Joy regurgitates the same old, same old, without any acknowledgement, or comment, on moves being currently undertaken.  He takes only a swipe at dairying, yet Horticulture NZ is appealing the Environment Court decision.  He's a one trick pony who has been pulled around the well a few too many times.

What are his views on the new Sustainable Dairying Water Accord? Or the Fonterra/DoC initiative announced today?…

His silence on such things is deafening.  Can someone please wake him up and drag him in to 2013.


Mr Joy is an academic, and seems to be quite disconnected from the forces acting to promote and enact sustainability:  iwi, farmers, councils and communities. 


And who are are you?


Do farm profits depend on waterway pollution?


Answer: No.     (suggest the sub ed takes a break)


Healthy Soils, a Dunedin-based company established in 2007, was the result of the amalgamation of three companies - Humatech, Folia Feed and Healthy Soils.

Its programme was about rebalancing soil minerals and establishing a healthy biological population. At Shortlands, there were simple but amazing results that got some biological action ''going again'', Mr Crutchley said.

Instead of oversupplying some base elements, they concentrated on balancing the elements. They used to grow 7000kg DM but now expected at least 12,000kg.…


Big Question: What does Mike mean by Sustainable.

We think "sustainable" is a bit like a Fonterra share, it means different things to different people. And some people are not open/clear on what they mean......



Henry - until more farmers adopt the principles of re-balancing the soil minerals and getting the mycorrhizae back then we are going to have to read articles like this one.


I have stated previously on here that the problems are simple to resolve you can turn farm land around very quickly.



notaneconomist - actually it isn't just about balancing the soils - that is part of it but is not the complete solution.  Flood waters run high with sediment, sediment that will flow regardless of how balanced your soils are and this sediment deposits nutrients in to waterways, as well as clogging them up. 


This summer Lake Roxburgh was lowered 6m to enable sediment to be removed. It is  dead for fish life due to sediment etc starving the lake of oxygen.  Not a dairy farm anywhere near there, but there is a dam. An old dam. And that is what is causing the problem and is acknowledged as such.  No amount of balancing the soils will sort that. 


Having said that I am in the camp of having balanced soils, but I have my eyes open enough to know that dairy farmers are not the sole reason water is degraded.  One just has to look at Lake Rotorua and the collaborative effort made by all there to clean up the lake to see that it requires the whole community to make an effort, not just one section. 



Co - flooding is a natural phenomena and so is sediment moving downstream/river etc. This is beneficial for all the eco systems.

Roxburgh dam has always been an issue partly because of the way it was built the sediment could not move downstream.

Dead fish have also been problematic as the Roxburgh dam design didn't cater for fish. They couldn't spawn.

I would like more information on the oxygen deprivation causing the fish to die. I assume the fish were autopsied.

Nutrient runoff frequently gets blamed on agriculture but there is alot of evidence that suggests town and city sewerage is far more of a problem. While I would fully agree that Nitrogen is a problem farmers can avoid that type of farming if they choose too. So I don't have much sympathy for those who choose the NPK regime as I don't believe it is balanced and is bad for animal health.

Collaborative efforts usually hide the real polluter.


I'm Miss Taken.


Thought as much - let us know when you recover.


Thats O for Orsome mist, I had much more rural language in mind for that joyless F@#$%r.