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Horizon survey for Fish and Game finds 70% of NZers believe expansion of dairying has worsened water quality in rivers, lakes and streams

Rural News
Horizon survey for Fish and Game finds 70% of NZers believe expansion of dairying has worsened water quality in rivers, lakes and streams

By Bernard Hickey

An opinion poll by Horizon Research for Fish and Game has found 70% of New Zealanders believe the expansion of dairying has worsened water quality in rivers, lakes and streams.

The 230 page report from the survey of 3,134 New Zealanders also found that 71% thought water quality was worse than 20 years ago and 64% of farm managers and owners also thought water quality had deteriorated. The poll found 65% of National voters also thought water quality had worsened.

More than half (54%) of those surveyed said the dairy industry was harming New Zealand's '100% pure' reputation, while just under half (46%) of farm owners and managers also agreed that dairying was hurting the 100% pure reputation.

“The sole focus on ramping up primary sector growth, whatever the costs, has put the economy on a collision course with the environment and public opinion,” Fish & Game NZ chief executive Bryce Johnson said, adding the survey showed there was a clear risk political parties would lose their support if they promoted economic growth without safequards for the environment.

The survey found 67% said they supported large-scale irrigation schemes for intensive dairy farming, but only if "scientific evidence proves that measures are in place to ensure downstream waterways will not be adversely affected."

“Presently we have a number of large-scale irrigation projects being proposed by Government and regional councils with scant regard being given to the adverse environmental consequences that invariably result from the change in land use, especially downstream water pollution including estuaries and coastal areas,” Johnson said.

“The ‘precautionary principle’ is being conveniently ignored here and this negligence is going to leave a legacy of pollution for future generations,” he said.

The survey found 74% did not want regional councils to allow agricultural development and expansion "if it restricts public use and makes waterways unsafe for swimming, fishing and food gathering."

It also found 86% agreed that regional councils supporting irrigation and also being responsible for managing water quality was a conflict of interest.

"Currently the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council is pushing the Ruataniwha irrigation project which, if given the go-ahead, will facilitate massive intensive dairy expansion and, through a permissive regional plan, allow toxic levels of nitrogen in the Tukituki River," Fish and Game said.

Similar large-scale irrigation development is being promoted in Greater Wellington with the regional council driving the Wairarapa Water Use Project.

“New Zealanders want regional councils to stick to their knitting – protecting natural resources, including freshwater – rather than promoting environmentally destructive infrastructure projects and environmentally unsustainable industry expansion,” Johnson said.

The survey results follow the publication of a report in November by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Jan Wright, in which presented research showing the expected conversion of 650,000 hectares of land to dairying would further damage waterways, even with the mitigation measures being implemented. See more here in my November report.


Labour Environment Spokeswoman Moana Mackey said the survey showed the National Government failed to realise how important water quality was to New Zealanders.

"When it comes to taking responsibility for improving water quality an overwhelming 89 per cent support the view that those who pollute waterways should be made accountable for their restoration, including 88 per cent of National voters, and 72 per cent wanting to see farmers and dairy companies take responsibility for reducing the impact of dairying," Mackey said.

"The single nutrient management model proposed in the Hawkes Bay Ruataniwha scheme does not meet this test and National Ministers should reverse their enthusiastic support for the scheme. It is unacceptable that millions of dollars of taxpayers money is going to subsidise a scheme that will turn the Tukituki river toxic," she said.

"This survey is a wakeup call for the National government. If they are not swayed by the economic and environmental reasons for action on water quality then maybe the potential political ramifications of continuing to drag their heels will spur some action.”

United Future Leader and National Government coalition partner Peter Dunne used the survey's publication as an opportunity to attack the Green Party, saying New Zealanders should recapture the environmental conversation from the Green Party.

"It is time that New Zealanders stand up and recapture the environmental conversation from the Green Party" said UnitedFuture Leader Peter Dunne in response to the results of a Fish and Game commissioned survey released this morning.

Dunne's opposition to the Government's proposal removal of sections 6 and 7 from the Resource Management Act has blocked its passage through parliament.

"I acknowledge that the RMA needs to be fixed and I'm seeking to work with National on achieving those necessary fixes. But I will not do so at the expense of the environmental bottom lines that the RMA sets," he said.

"It is actually time that Wellington steps back and lets local communities decide for themselves," he said.

"If Canterbury, for example,  wants more intensive dairying farming, or Hawkes Bay wants to be GE free, or the West Coast wants to preserve their rivers then it is not up to Ministers in the Beehive to ride roughshod over those wishes."

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No-one voted for electricity, canals, railways, steam propulsion, or indeed the First World war.  So canvassing the vox populi is a terribly inexact method of determining entire economic futures.


This is just the same old refrain, best expressed in the blues-sound-bite:


'Evr' body wanna go ta Heaven,

but no-body wants ta Die'.


Like it or not, our current wave of prosperity (yes, relative, yes) is riding on the millions of hooves of our dairy herds.


So, Sustainability comes always with the rider:  'at what level of comfort?'


Fish and Game beat this drum at all available venues, and yet are unwilling to advance the argument to its inescapable trade-off:  reduce dairy prices/sales/production etc, and What are you gonna then reduce?


  • Benefits?
  • Imports?
  • Education?
  • Health spend?
  • Choice (various Opolies thrive under constant-restraint conditions)

And what might you then have to increase?

  • Taxes (and hence, to the extent they are value-added, prices)
  • Prices (especially for desired but limited imports)
  • Delays (health care rationing, capex projects, maintenance spends)
  • Debt (the drug of choice for generations past)


I'm not saying I disagree entirely with the broad thrust of F&G's rants.


But I do think they are not noting the trade-offs, and I don't think that this sort of article (which if Cam Slater had his mitts on the keys, would be termed a 'Repeating, not reporting' gig) does much to advance the general state of knowledge about things rural.


Or, indeed, things Economic, being as how Dairy is our #1 export earner by - sorry - a country mile.


Can Do Better, Bernard....


I know it is not your point, but Virginia voted for canals in 1772.


Except this is 2014 not the turn of the last century and we still hadn't seen off the last huia here in NZ. Now have a better understanding of our impact on the planet and how, if we go too far (and may already have done so) the effect is negative on everything, including us. So there is definitely a line a we should not cross and it needs to stop being moved so that we always think we haven't got to it yet.



People get carried away with this democracy carry on.

Lets go a step further.  Lets sack the all black selectors and have a public vote for who we want in the team.  Will this make our team better or worse?

I've often said there should be a standard test that people need to pass before they should be allowed to vote. An opinion (or vote) of someone who knows nothing about the issues is worthless.  Where as the opinion of experts are invaluable.

I'm no expert on the envirnomental impacts of dairy, so I'll sit on the side lines here.  I read a lot about NZ ecomony, and dairy is doing everything for this country on that front, so bring me studies (not opinion polls) showing objective data on how the impact of dairy specifically is impacting water ways (not due to increased size of cities and increased volume of stormwater run off into harbours and rivers). 


A very good point: we should take into account all the pollution sources and not just dairying run-offs.

And use actual data. Good!


"Where as the opinion of experts are invaluable." Presuming of couirse they have not been selected for their ability to find on the side of the particular ruling party of the day, or dictatorship that I suspect you may be more in favour of.

Acid test for water is, would you swim in it, yes or no, I don't need much more than that, frankly


Meanwhile, back in the real world, communities are quietly collaborating to reach agreement and work together on finding local solutions for local water quality issues.  Slowly but surely many diverse groups in communities (especially rural) are coming to realise that it will be by working together  that the best long term solutions will be found and implemented.


Collaboration is a word both Mike Joy and Bryce Johnson have a profound fear of.  


Fully agree, CO.  In Canterbury, the appointed Regional Council (the old democratic bunch were tossed under a bus, and that magnificent fixer, Dame Margaret Bazley, installed as CEO) have gotten together:

  • a Water Strategy
  • Zone committees to action the Strategy (committees upon which, it should be noted, F&G reps sit as well as farmers, iwi, TLA's etc)
  • Measuring water takes so that future allocations can be based upon - gasp - Actual Usage Data


It needs to be recalled that the old elected ECan (fondly nicknamed ECan't) took 19 years to not produce anything resembling a Strategy, let alone the actioning committees.  And mainly because the almost exact rural/urban split of its Councillors, inevitably solidified into an Urban Greens (Eugenie Sage, f'rinstance) versus Rural Blues battlefront.  Result - a perfect stasis, no plans, no momentum, water allocations without data, on a first come first served basis without regard to economic value, yada, yada.


Hence the bus.


Despite the occasional whimperings of the democratic types, the current ECan is actually getting through the work, involving the locals, and has its sights firmly fixed on some lofty goals such as having Lake Ellesmere a food-basket once more - the ultimate litmus test.


But I emphasize the point that F&G are unwilling to take:  the nation's climb out of indebtedness is via a bovine ladder.  Kick away some rungs, ya gots to pose a viable alternative.


Or else be explicit that living standards, wages, disposable income, house affordability - decline has a long, long list of effects - are gonna decrease, perhaps drastically for many Fine Upstanding Citizens of our fair land.


Trade-offs, trade-offs.


Its not just Horse and Hound readers. As per JKs BBC interview May 2011 those in the know understand the NZ rivers and lakes are well knackered. See

Where to for NZ farmer? To increase production they will need more hooves on the ground or take the animals inside. Our NZ Pure advertising is a bit of a joke - perhaps we are just not as polluted as other countries.


Seems to me highly probable that the vox populi would be nervous about water quality given the explosion of intensive dairying. The survey results seem highly predictable.

What we do know is that any highly profitable sector has a powerful voice in regulation and errosion of the general environment is highly likely.

We know this . Look at Montana mining , logging , agricultural sectors. China et al

Do we need a laboratory to see the effects of unrestained economic activity?

Many examples .........not the least China.

Dairy is indeed doing a lot of good stuff now re controls, but overall I have no confidence in our ability to see large problems coming and re-act proactivly.

We have many many examples of this.

The vox populi may indeed be inexact but they dont always get it wrong either.

The short termism that is plaging us will always put quick economic benifits first then the tax payer pays for the complex cleanup required due to lack of good planning.



I really struggle with headlines such as this one.

'...70% of NZers....'

All you can say is 70% of a poll of 3,134 New Zealanders blah blah blah. No background as to where the poll was conducted or how it was contructred.

For the record, I'd like to think there is continued momentum in quantifying and debating the impact dairying is having on much of the landscape and waterways that  belong to all New Zealanders.


So what is the result of inaction - Ecan has now come up with a plan in Canterbury. A plan that has serious consequences for Dairy farmers but more importantly NON Dairy farmers.

Generally speaking Dairy farmers who have been the so called culprits get to continue polluting at close to their current levels. But NON Dairy farmers sheep, beef, deer and cropping farmers who have been farming in a more sustainable way for generations suddenly get punished and restricted to the levels (baseline) of nitrate leaching they are now which is way below Dairy farm levels. While the Dairy industry continue to pollute at current levels. Is this "Just" and "Equitable" I doubt it.

Has the Dairy industry (Fonterra) promoted itself in a "reckless" fashion without regard for communities and if so do the Non dairy farmers have recourse for compensation?


In our neck of the woods we have seen a change in attitude by non dairy farmers since three years ago to now.  Three years ago they were more than happy to let dairy take the can for ALL environmental woes.  However, when some conversions started testing water quality before conversion and continue to test water for some years after, they have found that water quality has improved after conversion. e.g.…  


This isn't the only conversion in the region to have had improved water quality after conversion.  It is these and a general acceptance of 'whole community responsibility' for water quality, that has now seen non dairy farmers accept that they too do have a responsibility for water quality, in our catchment.


Non dairy farming has also intensified over the years, though many non farmers don't realise this.  Cropping farmers are using high to very high fertiliser inputs and some of their tillage practices contribute to sediment issues, which in turn contribute to nutrient issues.


In Southland deer farmers have to fence deer out of waterways and some have been prosecuted for allowing them in to waterways. It can take time for attitudes to change.  Like a few years ago when non dairy farmers who took in dairy grazing believed that the winter grazing rules didn't apply to them - until they started to get infringement notices and fined.  


Zeebeck you state  has serious consequences for Dairy farmers  then go on to say  get to continue polluting at close to their current levels. You can't have it both ways.  Part of the problem with non dairy farmers is that a significant number of them mistakenly don't/didn't believe that they have any responsibility for water quality.  Wait to hear the cry from lifestylers when regional councils go gunning for septic tank systems that don't meet standards.  That's the next thing coming down the road to those that live in rural communities. ;-)


Do the people surveyed actually have any idea or science behind their opinions?

If they don't, why do we care?
It's not like it's economically feasible to reverse such a deliberate ignorance.

I'm just happy enough to laugh when all the flow-on costs from upgrades and conversions start to hit home.  After all, We're down 3% on gross yield from loss of 3.5% of grazing acreage, and they seem happy with that idea, and all the weeds and pests that we're starting to get now.


I dont believe this finding , but I would need to read the report to make some sense of it

I would like to know where that sample of 3134 NZ'rs was drawn from that it could be extrapolated to 70% of all Kiwi voters .

There are 2,7 million voters on the General Roll and about 1,25m of these are Auckland city resident voters

Given that only about just over 60%  of the population live outside Auckland , and they are not all farmers , I am unsure that 70% of all voters could conceivably hold such a view

Then :-

1) How on earth would they know about water quality almost a whole generation ago to make a sound judgement ?

2) Over 40% of all Aucklanders were born overseas, few if any of these city dwellers are farmers , so  they would not have a clue on the topic

3) Did the questionaire ask respondents if the voted for National?

I am not disputing that dairy is a muddy business and some recycled grass is washed into the rivers  , but I reckon that most people do not have a clue about the topic of dairy polution


I'd also add my old, old refrain to this 'ere thread.


Be careful whatcha wish for.  Ideas have consequences.


Remedying the consequences of intensive dairy is going to accelerate the push to:

  • corporate structures for dairy farm ownership.  This is already well advanced, and it's largely because only corporates can spread their risks over many farms, many soil types, many catchments, and can get large bank facilities to tackle capital-intensive remediations.
  • indoor dairying.  It concentrates all the problems into one manageable space, where sound engineering solutions can be found and applied.  Extensive stock farming spreads ('diffuses') issues in a finally uncontrollable way:  the saving grace for generations past has been the relatively low stocking rates able to be carried.  Stocking rates, production, and intensity have grown massively, as have the consequences.

The consequences are already apparent:

  • The old ladder to farm ownership has had most of the rungs kicked out.  Sharemilker to small own farm to bigger own farm to nice big own farm, was the rural dream.  Sharemilker to corporate farmer ain't feasible for most if not all.
  • Cheap labour and salaried managers, rather than dedicated farmers, as the working population on farm.  Both are under threat via robotisation of sheds, automated measurement of emissions, outsourcing of inputs such as irrigation and indeed management itself (see, for instance, Ballance's Ag-Hub, which has modules for feed planning, water management, weather monitoring measurement, effluent management, soil moisture and temperature measurement, pasture cover measurement and yield mapping).
  • Domino effects on rural towns, service centres etc.  Employment, retail, regional GDP, etc.


By all means push the 'better, cleaner dairying' meme.


Just be aware that this push has passengers.