Illegal effluent discharges cost dairy farm $35,000

A Bay of Plenty farm company has been fined $35,000 for illegally discharging effluent which flowed into waterways.

Bayfield Farms Limited, which farms 640 cows at Otamarakau Valley Rd, Te Puke, was fined $35,000 plus $132.89 court costs and $113 solicitor costs after it pleaded guilty in Tauranga District Court yesterday to two breaches of the Resource Management Act.

Bayfield Farms twice admitted that it permitted a contaminant to discharge on to land or into land which resulted in the effluent entering the Waitahanui Stream at Otamarakau.

The offences involved the unlawful discharge from an underpass pond and an effluent contingency pond and were uncovered on November 22 last year by a Bay of Plenty Regional Council officer during a routine farm inspection.

The underpass discharge was caused by water from a nearby orchard irrigation system accidentally flowing into the underpass, causing its ponds to overflow.

This discharge and the contingency pond overflow entered the same channel and flowed into the same farm drain, then into the Waitahanui Stream.

The stream is a habitat and migratory pathway of indigenous fish species, and ultimately flows into the sea about 10km from the farm.

The regional council's lawyer, Adam Hopkinson, said these unlawful discharges had resulted in "immeasurable" changes to the stream and ultimately an important regional habitat.

Mr Hopkinson urged Judge Jeff Smith to impose a fine of up to $60,000, saying this prosecution was "symptomatic" of the same underlying compliance issues that had been occurring on the farm for some time, with an abatement and an infringement notice having been issued in the past.

The defendant had taken a "minimalistic and reactive approach" to the problem which could have been avoided with better farm management practices.

Bayfield Farms lawyer Peter Hardie argued the fine sought was excessive, pointing out that his client conceded he relied too heavily on his farm manager, but he had since taken remedial steps to ensure the problem did not recur.

Judge Smith said while the underpass discharge had been an "unexpected and untoward event", both discharges did flow into the stream, and therefore this was serious offending.

The judge said a fine of $35,000 was appropriate and fair after allowing the company discounts for guilty pleas, remorse, and its clear intentions to avoid further offending.

- By Sandra Conchie of the Bay of Plenty Times