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Dairy industry leaders have put farmers on notice to lift their game after a damning report showed many have substandard effluent management systems.
Fonterra announced yesterday that from next season it will visit every supplier's farm each year to inspect dairy-effluent systems. The company has demanded higher compliance with the regulations, with threatening fines and the refusal to collect milk from repeat offenders.
The latest Clean Streams Accord data, gathered by regional councils, shows the number of farmers around New Zealand adhering to council dairy-effluent discharge consents has slipped from 64% in 2007-08 to 60% in 2008-09. Otago figures also deteriorated, from 83% compliance to 75%.
However, Otago Regional Council chief executive Graeme Martin said the Otago statistics for "significant non-compliance", which can result in environmental damage and subsequent prosecution, improved from 8% to 5%, one of the lowest rates in the country.
"That's a level that whilst we do not like it, you have got to say it's not a bad level. It's one of the best in the country."
Significant non-compliance nationally rose from 12% to 15%, with Northland the poorest performer at 27%, followed by Auckland (23%), Waikato (20%) and Canterbury (19%).
"Minor non-compliance" breaches in Otago, which do not result in infringement or abatement notices, rose from 10% to 20%.
Otago Federated Farmers chairman and dairy farmer Mike Lord welcomed Fonterra's tougher stance, saying he believed it had the support of shareholders.
"By and large, most farmers care about the impact they have on the environment and there is no doubt about it, they can do better and will do better."
The national level of non-compliance with dairy-effluent consents has been condemned by Agriculture Minister David Carter, the Fonterra Shareholders Council, DairyNZ and Federated Farmers.
Mr Carter was particularly scathing.
"The data from this year's snapshot tells a totally unacceptable story of effluent management. Regardless of whether this is because farmers don't have the right tools, don't know how to comply, or simply don't care, behaviour has to change."
Fonterra's managing director of trade and operations, Gary Romano, said there was a clear expectation from the community and the company's customers farmers must do better.
The company was spending up to $3 million employing staff to inspect effluent-management systems on all 10,600 supplier farms, with the goal of halving non-compliance within 18 months and trending towards zero.
Effluent management compliance was a regional council issue and the Otago Regional Council confirmed yesterday it inspected all dairy farms in the region each year.
Mr Romano said councils and dairy companies needed to work more closely to show farmers what was expected of them.
"Farmers are willing to respond if they are given a clear indication of what compliance looks like and how to get there."
Mr Romano reiterated that Fonterra had enforcement powers introduced last year allowing it to deduct $1500 from milk cheques for suppliers who receive an infringement notice and $3000 for those who are prosecuted.
Fonterra's manager of milk supply, Tim Deane, said the ultimate sanction for those who consistently refused to comply was to refuse to collect their milk and this has been threatened nine times this season and actioned twice.