Stop the conversions

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This week, some Waikato locals took me and intrepid photographer Amanda Rogers on a tour of some  lakes and waterways in their region, and up to the massive dairy conversions in the upper catchment of the Waikato River. It was a powerful experience to start my Waikato tour at a local meeting of worried people wanting to clean up Lake Karapiro (above), and end up at a future source of its pollution – a vast plain of former forest that will be soon be another dairy farm.

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During a rainstorm we drove from the iconic rowing lake at Karapiro, which had a red algae bloom for the first time last summer, through a landscape of hydro lakes that are all suffering the effects of the huge increase in dairy farms. As it’s autumn, we did not see either the red or yellow algae that now plague these lakes, but we did hear stories from people along the way about run-off from upstream farms degrading the water all the way from Lake Ohakura down to Lake Karapiro.

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When we reached Whakamaru, I was amazed to see the vast areas where tree-felling machines and bulldozers were ripping out the pine forests and clearing land. The conversions were happening before our eyes creating huge green deserts of future dairy paddocks, a treeless monoculture stretching from the west side of Rotorua across toward the King Country. Not all these dairy conversions can be blamed on Landcorp but they are managing the large Waireikei Pastoral Estate blocks between Taupo and Rotorua. They’ve been assisted by the Waikato Regional Council who have facilitated these conversions at the expense of their own communities downstream. It’s all very well to be holding a meeting about cleaning up rivers in one breath, while having consented to a massive landuse change upstream that will increase the pollution of waterways. Another 29,500 dairy stock will soon be grazing on these conversions, creating 1.6 million litres of waste a day – a threat to the Waikato that could be the last straw.

As we watched them ripping out the trees at Whakamaru,  a carbon sink was disappearing before our eyes to be replaced by thousands of methane emitting dairy herds. Climate change is the biggest issue of our generation but you would never guess that standing on that barren plain. Add to that the porous volcanic soils of that region will leach nutrients downstream into the Waikato river and the lakes even if they fence creeks and plant buffer zones. Phrases like “mitigation” and ” best practice” will be bandied about in numerous collaborative stakeholder meetings, while the relentless destruction continues across the region. Meanwhile, swimming in clean rivers and lakes is becoming a memory for adults, rather than an essential part of a Kiwi childhood.

The weakening dairy price might slow this down but in the meantime we need to act. The Green petition can at least target Landcorp who claim to be farming leaders while participating in this environmentally and economically dubious landuse.

On State Highway 5 heading towards Rotorua there are some imposing gateways to vast agribusiness properties but not a single sign to tell you that costs are being dumped on the climate and the waterways. But many more people are waking up to this crisis and we stand with them.

You can stand with them too – sign the petition to halt the Landcorp conversions here.

Photo credit: Amanda Rogers

7 thoughts on “Stop the conversions

  1. diversification, heard of it? putting all your eggs in one basket. heard of that too?. Dairying is an enterprise he land cannot sustain with current stocking rates. Groundwater is affected by NItrogen/nitrates due to stocking rates and under developed effluent systems. LAND CORP needs to think a little bit more about sustainable land use and the benefit of the wider public

  2. Pastoral dairy farming is NOT carbon neutral. Whichever ‘Agricultural Organisation’ that shared that bogus information is only out to serve their own interests. NIWA’s webpage has a good description of pastoral agriculture and carbon neutrality if anyone is interested. Cows produce methane which is 25X more potent than CO2 and grass when grazed releases CO2. Therefore a Dairy Farm is a source of greenhouse gasses. A mature pine forest stores 10-20 tonnes of carbon per Hectare therefore is a carbon sink.

  3. That 3rd pic would make a great postcard 😉 Is this just an issue in the Waikato and parts of the South Island, or in other areas like Taranaki for example?

  4. I call on landcorp to consider other uses of the land under it’s control, other than just dairy farming. This is short sighted and may not be ultimately that profitable, given the way dairy prices are going. How is all of that effluent going to be managed other than dumping it in the Waikato River and how does this help NZ meet our carbon emission targets ?

  5. The carbon sink only disappears if the timber is burnt. Further there will be masses of grass growing, so the carbon sink will be bigger, not smaller. Cows are CARBON NEUTRAL, and converting forestry to farming builds a carbon sink. Please get your facts straight, don’t believe as gospel those oil baron sponsored publications. If you are going to complain about pollution in the river then that is what I want.

  6. The damage to the countryside & the waters are criminal. There is more than enough $’s in dairy now. Diverse to other non destructive farming, now.

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