Concern report will be a blow to farmers

The Pomahaka River at Kelso, showing signs of lower water levels. PHOTO: JOHN COSGROVE
PHOTO: JOHN COSGROVE
Southland's agricultural community feels like it is in the dark as rumours fly about an unpublished report on water quality, with one farmer saying it could be a disaster for the sector.

As well as pushing for an independent appraisal of the Environment Southland report, farming advocate and dairy farmer Doug Fraser raised concerns during a council meeting on Wednesday.

After the meeting, Mr Fraser told the Otago Daily Times rumours of the report were causing concern among farmers.

"We’re hearing it is suggesting massive cuts in nutrient loads in waterways.

"It would mean no cows on the Southland plains."

Mr Fraser said if the report was as bad as what farmers were hearing, it would be catastrophic for the agricultural sector.

While no longer actively involved in Federated Farmers, Mr Fraser said as a life member he felt a responsibility to the community.

He said there was confused messaging coming from the council.

He referred to a column by chief executive Rob Phillips in the Southland Express which he said encapsulated some of his concerns.

It was emotional stuff and it concerned him.

"Rob is saying you’re still delving into the science, and yet what I hear out on the streets is that the science has been in your hands since about Christmas time," Mr Fraser said.

Farmers were being alienated and water was prioritised over people, he said.

He had sent questions to both the council and the regional forum, a community group which reports to the council, about whether the forum had a role in establishing community values and objectives, when and how that would occur and how community sentiment would be conveyed.

Council chairman Nicol Horrell said while they could not have a discussion then, the council would get back to him on his questions and noted that, under government regulation, it was required to set limits.

After the meeting, Mr Phillips said the region faced significant environmental challenges.

The council was working to find solutions and spoke with thousands of Southlanders during the process of compiling values and objectives.

He said the report Mr Fraser referred to was about nutrient reduction work and, while not yet published, was part of building understanding of what was required to improve waterways.

This was being shared with stakeholders, including Federated Farmers, for review.

While it was still in draft form, discussions on the nature of the findings had begun.

This would continue.

Findings had been derived using the best possible science and models, which were published in peer-reviewed international journals, he said.

However, the focus was not on the numbers so much as the scale of change required and steps to take.

"We know just how important our agricultural sector is to Southland and Southlanders, as well as to the national economy and we need to make sure that we are able to retain confidence within our rural sector."

To achieve the reductions in nitrogen, phosphorus, E. coli and sediment, the council would support the farming sector and wider community to better understand what was needed and to make changes and improvements in stages, over time, he said.

The pace of change needed to be accelerated.

"The change needed is simply too big for any one agency to achieve alone and will require strong regional and national partnerships with a long-term vision.

"That’s where Southland’s experience and success in working together will come into its own."

He also noted values and objectives were released last November in the draft Murihiku Southland freshwater objectives.

The council had recently hosted a hui with council, industry and local leaders to discuss and work towards a plan to address these environmental challenges, he said.

Mr Phillips said it was constructive and had resulted in further workshops being planned to develop feasible, achievable actions in the short and medium term.

laura.smith@odt.co.nz

Comments

Time to eradicate ducks in southland given the science proves 80% of southlands E.coli in rivers is avian. That is a fact thaf environment southland will confirm. If farming is to be scaled back so should duck and goose populations to the level the national standards are met. Anything else would be inequitable.

Sorry McRea but I believe you have you have got things a little mixed up or you are purposely trying to take things out of context. While the report you are referring to states that of the Southland waterways they tested 80% did contained bird faeces, this is not surprising as many birds live on or near waterways. But it also found that 50% contained faeces from livestock, which is surprising because cattle should be excluded from our waterways. Furthermore, the report goes on to state that there is little associated risks from bird contamination but the potential risks of harmful diseases and ecosystem failure is greatly amplified by the presence of animal pollution.
The report is available online.

Any farming system that results in rivers were you regularly can't swim is simply the wrong system. Farming had to innovate back in the 80s when finally faced with reality, no difference time.

It's not like there is a shortage of more progressive, innovative approaches to dairy farming either.

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