Effluent problems persist

The threat of being "shut down" has been aimed at dairy farmers after serious effluent discharge problems were found at eight farms throughout the region.

The strongly worded comments came from Otago regional councillors during a council compliance committee meeting in Dunedin yesterday.

The regional council got tough last season and took 26 dairy farmers to court for effluent discharge-related problems.

Those convicted received fines of between $2000 and $38,000.

The council had hoped for a better result this season.

However, with only 120 inspections of the region's 379 dairy farms complete, eight cases were already being investigated - a result worse than last year.

None were repeat offenders.

Council resource management director Selva Selvarajah said the eight cases being investigated involved effluent going into tile drains and then into waterways, puddling of effluent, breakages of effluent irrigation systems, and one case where silage was pumped into a drain.

Compliance manager Martin King said adding to the serious non-compliance were 20 minor breaches, including full effluent ponds.

"This is a higher level of non-compliance - significant issues on a scale higher than last year."

Cr David Shepherd asked whether non-compliant dairy farmers wanted the regional council to "shut them down".

"Why should the rest of the dairy industry suffer for these people?" he asked.

Cr Bryan Scott said the council needed to "stick to its guns" and, perhaps, if farmers were not up to meeting requirements, they should be shut down.

Deputy chairman Stephen Woodhead said it was extremely disappointing given significant time and energy had been put into informing farmers. There was no excuse for a lack of awareness.

"I'd not hoped for a perfect record, but I had hoped for a big improvement. Eight out of 120 is not good enough."

Dr Selvarajah said it had been hoped the prospect of being convicted would deter dairy farmers, even if the fines did not.

Most of the fines imposed in Otago last season were $5000, which was lower than those in other regions.

Only two cases from last season were still to be heard by the courts.

Farmers were well aware the council would not tolerate any non-compliance this season, he said.

The council had circulated a letter to all farmers, held field days and workshops, and distributed pamphlets giving farmers information to help prevent the problems.

Federated Farmers Dairy Otago chairman David Wilson said the regional council had done well in providing information in a form farmers could understand and providing advice on systems.

"It's a bit disappointing. Not a good result."

However, he believed the council would get a better result working alongside farmers to improve effluent systems than by prosecuting them.


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