Friday, April 12, 2024

More effluent dumps ‘a no-brainer’

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Call to prioritise the lack of effluent dumps across New Zealand ‘causing thousands of litres of effluent a week to be discharged directly onto our roads’.
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Farmers and livestock truck operators are keeping their fingers crossed that a plan for more stock effluent dumps isn’t sidelined by competing road funding priorities.

There are significant fines for truckers when overflowing on-board tanks spill effluent onto roadways, creating a ‘loss of traction’ safety risk for motorists.  

Manawatū-Rangitikei Federated Farmers president Ian Strahan says that at a time when farmers are under a microscope for the impact of their livestock on the environment, it’s puzzling that the risk of truck-spilled effluent is being given so little attention. 

“Truck drivers have told me, in confidence, that the dumping of effluent on side roads is a widespread occurrence, especially when rain is adding to their effluent load.

“One of the most popular places to do it is on hills, releasing as they go up an incline. 

“The Saddle Hill is one place prone for it. Of course, from Saddle Hill it’s a very short distance down to the Manawatū River.”

Strahan doesn’t endorse the practice – but he doesn’t blame the truck drivers either.  

“What choice do they really have with so few effluent dumps?”

As it impacts Strahan’s province, there’s a stock effluent disposal facility (SEDF) in Fielding and another at the Taupō saleyards, but nothing in between.

“So, we’ve got probably thousands of litres of effluent a week direct discharging onto roads, which are a very quick path into waterways.

“Councils get worked up about the effluent from a few ewes way back up the gully, but they’re paying no attention to this issue. It’s a slap in the face for the Manawatū and Rangitikei catchment groups that work so hard to protect waterways,” Strahan says. 

Don Wilson chairs the National Livestock Transport & Safety Group, of which Federated Farmers is a member. He says the industry is very aware of the issue and a business case has been developed and put to NZTA/Waka Kotahi for 19 more SEDFs, adding to the 24 sites already established in the North Island and 19 in the South Island.

They don’t come cheap: the estimated cost of the 19 new facilities, including land purchase, is $38.3 million.  

Road funding is allocated under three-yearly National Land Transport Programmes, and the proposal is that the cost and construction of the new SEDFs are spread over three NLTPs (2024-2031).

As the benefits of the disposal facilities accrue to wider society, not just farmers and transport operators, the business case proposes NZTA picks up the cost, leaving regional and district councils to identify the sites and deal with any opposition from neighbours.

The business case identifies 33 potential gaps in the SEDF network; the 19 selected are considered the priority. It also notes that, between 2012 and 2021, there were 61 reported crashes caused by a road surface being slippery due to mud and/or effluent, including one fatal and six serious injury. The total social cost of all those crashes was $14.1m.

It’s estimated 95% of livestock truck and trailers have some form of holding tank, most with around 200-300 litres capacity.  

While 20-30 years ago trucks could convey 35-40 cattle or 400 sheep, the bigger trucks enabled by Transport Rule changes in 2010 and 2013 mean modern trailers can now transport over 50 cattle or 500 sheep, meaning effluent tanks should be around 520 litres.  

“Tanks today are undersized by around 50%,” the business case states.

Wilson is as keen as anyone to see the release of the Government Policy Statement on Transport, and confirmation of funding for the SEDF national strategy.

But he adds that farmers must also play their part by standing off their animals from feed for at least four hours before their scheduled pick-up and journey.  

While that’s difficult for early morning pick-ups, and dependent on farm facilities, he argues more than 50% of farmers are not abiding by the ‘at least four hours’ advice.

The good news for Ian Strahan, and for Rangitikei District councillor Gill Duncan, who has also lobbied for action, is that three of the proposed new SEDF locations will serve their wider area: at Waiouru and at Vinegar Hill on State Highway 1, and at Te Ahu a Turanga, the new Manawatū Gorge highway.

Both are nervous about the money, recognising there is huge pressure on road funding.

“Turakina Valley is basically smashed after Cyclone Hale, and then Gabrielle,” Cr Duncan says.  “We’ve got something like 40 cut-outs underneath roads in our district.”

But support for more stock effluent facilities is widespread – and in high places. Cr Duncan put the need for more stock effluent facilities to a gathering of candidates during the General Election campaign last year. Candidates from all five parties present agreed, with Andrew Hoggard (ACT) describing the case for them as “a no-brainer”.

Federated Farmers, New Zealand’s leading independent rural advocacy organisation, has established a news and insights partnership with AgriHQ, the country’s leading rural publisher, to give the farmers of New Zealand a more informed, united and stronger voice. Feds news and commentary appears each week in its own section of the Farmers Weekly print edition and online.

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