Feds’ selective with the science on water quality

by frog

Here’s one that left me speechless with incredulity…

Fed Farmers Dairy chairman Lachlan McKenzie addressed the organisation’s AGM  yesterday and made some quite ridiculous and irresponsible comments on the progress that farmers have made in cleaning up waterways.

This time last year, Fish and Game New Zealand was calling on the government to regulate production in the agricultural sector. My how the tables have turned. NIWA and DairyNZ’s last report showed that water quality is no longer declining in the intensive dairy catchments despite a major increase in animals. Now that the scientific evidence is on our side maybe Fish and Game can actually focus on its real job… All I can say is that it is a shame our most vocal critics suffer from selective hearing when it comes to the great strides dairy farmers have made in recent years.

Hmmm… selective hearing – that’s not good? Well, let’s have a look at the NIWA report that Mr McKenzie cites….

The results of the NIWA survey on river quality released last week show very clearly that as agricultural use of land increases, water quality is deteriorating. Of the 77 monitored sites tested, nitrogen levels rose at 52 sites and fell at none. Phosphorous levels increased at 22 sites and fell at only nine. Lead authors Deborah Ballantine and Robert Davies-Colley say that while there have been ‘spot’ improvements, overall the quality of water in New Zealand rivers continues to get worse. They say the links between deteriorating water quality and agriculture are clear.

Mr McKenzie is the one selectively reading the science. Just yesterday Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith released two new reports on freshwater quality, one of them a baseline study on at water quality in dairy farming catchments. The Minister himself shot-down Mr McKenzie argument:

There is a significant water quality issue emerging in areas of intensive farming, particularly dairying… It is no surprise that the report identifies degraded water quality in these areas and reinforces the need for further Government initiatives.

I don’t for a moment diss the great work that some farmers are doing to take responsibility for the impact of their stock on waterways. Jeanette has been visiting as many sustainable farming operations as she can in recent months to learn what responsible and innovative farmers are doing, and earlier this week, Kevin Hague blogged on a great community initiative in Golden Bay that has seen the Aorere River – a heavily farmed catchment – dramatically cleaned up to the point that aquaculture farms at the mouth of the river are healthy again.

Despite these initiatives, water quality in farmed catchments across the country is still declining. Until that trend genuinely reverses, there is no point using selective science to pretend otherwise. In fact it is grossly irresponsible to say that “the tables have turned”, and that “the scientific evidence is on our side’ when the trend is the opposite and in dire need of reversing. The Prime Minister and Minister of Agriculture made this quite clear at the recent launch of the Dairy Strategy.

Mr McKenzie is doing NZ farmers a disservice with his misleading statements.

frog says

Published in Environment & Resource Management by frog on Thu, July 2nd, 2009   

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