New Zealand Waterways and Dairying
Impact of Dairying on New Zealand Waterways
New Zealand is dependant on the dairy industry as it is vital to the nation's economy, contributing more than one-fifth of the nation's total gross domestic product (GDP) (DairyNZ, 2009). In the last few decades people have become aware of the impact of dairying on the New Zealand waterways. Because of this revelation the dairy industry has come under scrutiny and increasing demands to improve its conservation of rivers and creeks. This essay describes the effect and possible steps to minimising the damage of diary processing on the environment. Also it provides an in-depth analysis into the impact of dairying on the Waikato district.
New Zealand is widely own as a market economy which means it is significantly dependant on trade with Japan, China, and the Untied States, among others(World Dairy Summit, 2009). Major industries in agriculture sector are the nation's most significant with the primary export being dairy. Dairy products accounted for 21 percent ($7.5 billion) of the total merchandise export in 2007, far greater than the 13 percent for meat products and 6 percent for wood (DairyNZ, 2009). The largest agricultural cooperative in New Zealand, Fonterra controls approximately 30 percent of the world's dairy exports and employs over 17,000 farmers across the nation (World Dairy Summit, 2009). These exports include milk powder, butter, ice cream, and a variety of cheeses. In 2007 Fonterra produced more than two percent (16 billion litres) of the global production of milk but more than 95 percent was exported rather than consumed. Also the corporate giant has said to have paid their employees six dollars per kilogram of milk solids, increasing the average annual income of the 17,000 farmers by $200,000 to $700,000. This has lead to a large boost of people joining the dairy profession (Black J. 2007).
It has been made very clear that dairying is very important to the economy. However the immense number of dairy processing plants and cattle has caused a threat to New Zealand's environment, particularly the waterways. The main problem as it is seen is that dairy farms handle vast amounts of milk, and the main by-product from processing the milk is the water. The water removed from the milk can include significant amounts of untreated milk products, minerals, and pesticides (DairyNZ, 2007). Waterways near dairy farms are being contaminated by this wastewater. Along with wastewater, the waste produced by the cattle is also a contributing factor to the effect on the waterways. Environmental Protection Agency has revealed studies which show a high concentration of compost nutrients in water run off from dairy farms and that these nutrients promote the growth of pathogens in our rivers and creeks (Parminter, I. 2009). There are ways to minimise the impact on the environment, which include effluent systems, treatment lagoons, and solutions as simple as a fence. South Auckland is the largest dairy produce supplier in New Zealand with 31 percent of the total milk solids of 2007. Of that, the Waikato district provided more than 700 million litres of milk (DairyNZ, 2009). However the waterways such as the Waikato River have taken a big toll for the amount of dairy processing done in the region. Green party co leader Jeanette Fitzsimons says the problem is that the majority of farmers in the Waikato have not applying sound economics to natural resources or waste disposal systems and that the Waikato Regional Council has given up enforcing the Resource Management Act. The Act states that the disturbance of any lake or river by cattle is permitted only with a proper effluent system and no feeding near the lake (Environment Waikato, 2007).
In 1994 the Waikato Regional Council began the Dairy Farming Waterway Programme, which was initiated to protect and help raise awareness of the damage caused by dairy farming. One solution to prevent the contamination was fencing the cattle from waterways. This provided great benefits as far as stopping any effluent leeching into the water supply and also stopping the cows from trampling the vegetation surrounding the waterways, which aid in the process of filtering the water. In the Waikato about 70 percent of lakes and rivers are unsafe for swimming (Norman R. 2009). The conditions of these lakes are ruining the billion dollar “clean and green” reputation that the tourism industry depends on. The most common dairy effluent systems are treatment lagoons which are innovative way of preventing the discharge of effluent into the waterways. The lagoon is designed for organic treatment by using naturally occurring micro-organisms to break down nutrients and pesticides. Another method that is commonly used in dairy farms in the United States but has not yet been adapted by the Waikato district or New Zealand in that matter is the organic bedding method, which utilizes rice hulls that are placed at the bottom of lakes and rivers to absorb dangerous sediments causing pollution (Mississippi State University, 2009). With these measures taken the quality of the waterways should have been a lot better than it is now.
Then it appears that several farmers in the Waikato are using unorthodox methods in their effluent management or “dirty dairying” as the Waikato Times puts it. Corporate dairy farmers Frank and Allan Crafar were charged with series of offences relating to an unauthorized effluent system and pollution of waterways with the intent. Fonterra has since terminated and charged them with 13,000 dollars of damages to the waterways (Neems J. 2009). With these reports further ruining the reputation of the dairy industry. Fonterra was asked how they were managing the problem with their farmers cutting corners. Fonterra has said that they are now giving incentive for environmentally correct farmers, awarding Waikato farmers with an extra dollar for every kilogram of organic milk, which means that the farm that it came from was chemical free except of authorised fertilisers (Monteith D. 2008). Along with Fonterra, Cadbury is now working with dairy farmers in Waikato to reduce and help raise awareness of the pollution of the waterways. Ian Walsh the director of environmental research development at Cadbury said they did not want to sell a product that caused any sort of damage to the environment and they wanted to assist in making all the dairy farmers in the Waikato chemical free (Adam B. 2009). Former Finance Minister Ruth Richardson believes that farmers should have to go a step further and pay for the use of water. Just like carbon footprints there should be preservation footprints to repair any damage caused to the environment (Black J. 2007)
In general dairying is becoming more widespread and more demanding. But as the uplifting economic features of farming rains over the economic downturn, so do it's harmful aspects, and as the industry becomes more powerful, its critics become more demanding. The dairy industry is the primary source of pollution making it the primary concern. I believe that Fonterra need to address the issue with the regional councils and push for a change in dairying farming. First should be the taxation of water use, the important of water will be recognised and proper managed of effluent systems will follow. I also believe that the Waikato and New Zealand in general should undertake the bedding method of placing absorbent rice hulls of lake and river beds, which is been used in the Untied States, it will help filter the water from contamination.
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