Large scale irrigation -> Intensive dairy -> water pollution

Yesterday we heard from David Carter that central govt wants to subsidise large scale irrigation projects in Canterbury and elsewhere.  And Morning Report is running with the story of a mega- irrigation project right across Canterbury, details sketchy but ‘exciting’.

The water would be used to spread intensive dairy across huge swathes of Canterbury.

The proponents talk vaguely about about mitigating environmental effects. This is simply greenwash.

Every study of water quality issues in NZ shows that the key driver of water pollution over the last decade has been the spread of intensive dairy. The science is black and white.

If you spread more intensive dairying you will pollute the rivers and aquifers even more than they are already polluted. 90% of the pollution comes from the cows in the field not in the milking shed, so even if they meet the conditions of their dairy shed effluent discharge consent, the intensive stocking rates will still result on massive non-point source pollution. The science around this is quite settled.

Those with dollar signs in their eyes are trying to use a bit of greenwash to cover up the science.

10 thoughts on “Large scale irrigation -> Intensive dairy -> water pollution

  1. Dairy is NZ’s single largest export sector, it is also the largest contemporary threat to our clean green image and as such to our equally as important tourism sector.

    If the government plans to subsidize the further expansion of dairy – then surely they should provide a decent economic analysis regarding the costs and benefits of such an intervention to our economy.

    What is the cut of the Aussie Bankers in this?

    What might the cost to the tourism sector be?

    What is the cost of polluting rivers and ground water?

    What is the cost to fisheries from increased nutrient and sediment?

    What return will the New Zealand public will see from this investment?

    What is the opportunity cost? i.e. How does this investment compare to an equal public investment in an alternative – for example developing higher value and lower environmental impact alternatives such as organics?

    How does return to the public compare to the private sector benefits?

    We must demand a full and independent analysis of this intervention. I expect the costs that will be externalised to the public and the environment will be huge.

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  2. We need to make as much use as we can of the water that falls before it goes out to sea.
    In theory, irrigation could reduce nitrates/phosphates in the water as the nutrients are used by the plants growing. The reality is usually that the water that leaves the paddock has more nutrients than the water being applied. But this does not have to be the case – IMO
    Is there any hope that the “greenwash” you say that the proponents speak of could be beefed up and made binding such that farmers get their summer irrigation and water quality is improved?

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  3. Every study of water quality issues in NZ shows that the key driver of water pollution over the last decade has been the spread of intensive dairy. The science is black and white.

    I would disagree; its dairying done badly that is the issue; if we wanted there not to be pollution then we could do it, there simply isn’t the will.

    This doesn’t invalidate the statement overall, however.

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  4. I think the key here is the intensity – even the best practice in the world can’t deal with the effluent in the field if the stocking rates are high.

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  5. Part of the problem is that investors expect the same sort of return on productive industries as they did until recently from gambling on derivatives, or interest rates artificially raised by the reserve bank.
    Artificially high land values do not help.
    This means Farmers have to extract the absolute maximum value from their business to survive.
    I think I have just made another argument for restricting ownership of NZ land.

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  6. Excellent curiosity going on here..

    Kerry Thomas made sense in that aspect.

    I like the intensity point also.. tho methinks it likely (understandably) production oriented..

    Yet marrying the two notions, what think ye of commercial price holdings in order to sustain lower export outputs and sound dairy practices in NZ..? Would this overly intrude on markets and their supposed mechanisms..?

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  7. Tomfarmer, increasing intensity increases production; but this is different from increasing profit. It is likely that the average NZ dairy farm would increase profit, cow welfare, and water quality by reducing intensity. Can stocking rate/intensity be enforced?

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