Dirty Dairying

I suppose the somewhat restrictive title is a bit wide of the mark but I used it because it was part of the introduction to a very good little documentary film on TV#’s ’60 Minutes’ last night- the fact is that any stock farming may be responsible for the degradation of water quality in streams and rivers throughout New Zealand. Of course dairying is by far and away the most destructive simply by sheer weight of numbers- Fonterra and the NZ dairy industry is our major agricultural producer and is supported by some 4 million grazing, farting, peeing and defecating bovines, a significant number of who, it would appear have free access to wild rivers and streams.

The documentary was focussing on two people in particular, and their efforts to change matters and save their waterways.

One was Grant Muir, a quiet-spoken ‘son of the land’ who, with his dogs (un-named) and son James goes to the streams river whenever he sees cattle and moves them away. Of course it is a somewhat thankless task if his only measure of success seems to be offending farmers selling up and moving away. I’m sure he would be much happier and the river more permanently helped if the offending farmers undertook to create riparian zones and guard these margins with fencing. It wasn’t made clear whether or not this has happened but given governments’ aims and claims with regard to guaranteeing  improving water quality it would seem logical (to me) that some assistance would be made available to farmers for this purpose (much as it irks me to suggest this!)

The other was another quiet-spoken Kiwi, Bernard Ruka who, with his Uncle Henry putters up and down waterways in The North in his little boat, life-jacket and all and collects evidence of infringements of local by-laws designed to protect waterways from the negative effects of stock. He takes photos, shoots videos, makes anecdotal records and quietly passes the evidence to the Council without any sense of a ‘name & shame’ victimisation, just an expectation that the Council will enforce the policies they have enacted for their region.

It was heartening to hear the new CEO of Fonterra (one of the world’s foremost dairy producer-marketers) Theo Spiering make some very positive noises about ‘sharing and caring’ and waterway protection but I’m afraid my cynical side has me wondering how the positive attitude might morph a bit if production levels are at all threatened by ‘sharing and caring’.

What DID come out during the doco was the fact that a significant proportion of rural councils are dominated by farmers. Coincidence that water quality controls aren’t being properly enforced?

I suppose it was no coincidence that this documentary aired on the weekend that the follow up report after 20 years of government action (or otherwise) after the 1992 Rio Earth Summit a report that has been VERY scathing of the lack of progress New Zealand has made, despite all of our best protestations of “100% Clean and Green”.

(I bagz that TV3 air James Muir’s film, “River Dog” as soon as possible.)


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