Call to study impact of dairy farm expansion

Research into the impact of the dairy expansion on Canterbury's environment has been called for.

Speaking to Courier Country after meeting Federated Farmers North Canterbury's executive, Labour's primary industries spokesman Damien O'Connor said research was urgently needed into the rapidly growing dairy industry's long-term effects on groundwater and aquifers.

''There are some big irrigation investments through the Waimakariri and Rakaia rivers which is good for the dairy industry.

"We support good water storage schemes, but there's a need to look at ways of funding good research into the effects of intensive dairying on light country.

''The clear message I took from the meeting is that farmers don't want to have a negative impact on water in the city [Christchurch].

''The intensification has happened quite quickly, but the effects on groundwater are still unclear and could be quite disastrous if anything goes wrong.''

Christchurch's drinking water came from underground aquifers which were fed by groundwater from the Canterbury Plains. The water supplies of other Canterbury towns were also fed by groundwater.

Mr O'Connor said there was a general acceptance that Canterbury needed to have ''a balanced rural economy'', with a ''healthy grain and seed industry'' and there was urgent need for reform in the meat industry.

''While the solutions are not clear, there needs to be someone driving that quickly and firmly.''

He said there were too many layers in the meat industry, which meant farmers were not getting clear market signals and there was evidence of ''traders who are arguably doing better than the farmers''.

Mr O'Connor said there was a need for a strategic approach to promote pasture-fed meat, as there were clear market signals from Europe, the United States and China that consumers wanted safe food which ''is free of any possible contamination''.