Environmental risk assessment regime to apply to Otago dairy farms

The Otago Regional Council will move to a new risk-based system of dairy farm inspections in 2014-15 as part of the implementation of new water quality rules for the Otago region.

The council’s director of environmental monitoring and operations, Jeff Donaldson, said the new regime will result in a shift from the annual dairy inspection for every farm to a risk management approach.

“Every farm will be assessed on their environmental risk and decisions made about how often they need to be inspected based on that risk,” Mr Donaldson said.

The key criteria for such decisions include:

1. Whether the dairy farm is in a degraded river catchment;

2. Whether the dairy farm has adopted best infrastructure management for their area; and

3. Whether there are drainage risks (eg tiles, mole drains that lead to waterways) on the property.

Donaldson said that if dairy farmers reduce their environmental risks through improvements in infrastructure, the frequency of inspections by council staff will decrease.

“When water quality also improves in degraded catchments, inspection frequency will also reduce further,” he said.

“Our objectives are to have every farm compliant with the new water quality rules; to incentivise farmers to adopt best practice in their land management, and to ensure water quality improves and meets the schedule 15 and 16 standards in the Otago Water Plan.”

Between September 2013 and April this year a total of 435 dairy sheds were operating in the region. Of these, 407 (representing 93.5%) of the farms were compliant with the permitted activity rules.

A total of 28 dairy farms (6.5%) were found to have one or more breaches of permitted activity rules, where their activities had the potential to adversely affect the environment. Of these 28, 10 dairy farms’ non-compliance was regarded as serious, and resulted in the council initiating eight
prosecutions, and issuing four infringement notices.

Donaldson said the results were an improvement on 2012-13 when 378 of the 413 dairy farms (or 91.5 percent) then operating complied with the permitted activity rules, leaving 35 (8.5 percent) with one or more breaches.

Of these 35, 16 were adjudged to be seriously non-compliant, with five prosecutions initiated and 12 infringement notices issued.

Donaldson said the improvement in compliance in 2013-14 compared to 2012-13 reflected a number of farmers having significantly upgraded their effluent management infrastructure.

This included installing effluent storage systems, installing gatorbuddies (electronic sensor systems in the event of irrigator failure e.g. hose disconnecting from the travelling irrigator) on the irrigator systems, and upgrades to K-line or centre pivot irrigation systems.

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