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Federated Farmers has labelled Environment Southland's dairy differential rate ''a blatant environmental tax'' which has nothing to do with recognising the costs the council incurs as a result of dairying.
''If you are trying to put dairying in Southland on the back foot and alienate farmers, then you are on the right track,'' Federated Farmers policy adviser David Cooper told councillors at a recent meeting.
Last year, Environment Southland (ES) became the third regional council in the country to introduce a dairy differential rate.
After a storm of protest the council softened its stance, charging farmers only $512,000 and contributing $700,000 from council reserves.
In its 2013-14 annual plan the council proposed levying farmers $1,238,500. However, after deliberations, councillors voted to reduce the amount to be billed to farmers to $977,500 and fund the remainder from anticipated surpluses.
Staff said the differential rate recognised the cost of work associated with dairying, including effluent disposal, water-quality compliance and protecting the environment from ''the adverse environmental effects of resource use''.
Federated Farmers and many individual farmers objected to the differential.
Mr Cooper, Southland Federated Farmers provincial president Russell MacPherson and Southland dairy section president Allan Baird were among several farmers who appeared at an ES council annual plan hearing.
Mr Cooper said Federated Farmers ''opposed the dairy differential outright''.
''It is our view you are simply imposing an environmental tax on one land use across Southland based on perception.''
The differential did not recognise or incentivise farmers who were doing a good environmental job on their properties, he said.
''It is simply a tax for being a dairy farmer. It is like handing a speeding ticket to every driver just for getting in the car.''
Some dairy farmers were not achieving what they should be, but ES should ensure the cost of compliance and monitoring fell clearly on those individuals, Mr Cooper said.
ES said its decision to reduce the amount farmers paid was made after its Water and Land 2020 and Beyond project identified the whole community was contributing to water-quality issues in some way, so the dairy industry should not be the only sector singled out for an extra contribution to the project.
It also resolved to take a fresh look at the way costs were allocated against the dairy differential rate next year.