The Waikato Regional Council undertook 571 inspections of the 3900 dairy farms in its region last season, resulting in 46 abatement notices, 66 formal warnings and 12 infringement notices for breaches under the Resource Management Act for dairy effluent discharges.
Five court actions were also completed in the 2022-2023 season.
Waikato Regional Council (WRC) compliance manager Patrick Lynch said it had not been an exceptional year either positively or negatively in terms of the level of compliance seen among Waikato dairy farmers.
“We’re just chipping away, we’re after that behaviour change … and we’re engaging with these farmers who are really not wanting to change and invest in infrastructure.
“Those are the ones we are having to engage with one on one.”
While it is difficult to assess how many farmers in the region fall into this category, Lynch estimated there are several hundred farms without adequate infrastructure in the region.
“That means on any given day if the weather conditions are not helpful or something else is happening on the farm, they will be unlawfully discharging into the environment.”
There are a sizeable number who respond to suggestions for better effluent management, but there are others who the council have to closely monitor because of the risks their systems pose.
“You get the same interaction – no change. Those are the ones we have to keep going back to.
“We’ll keep working with that farm until they do change so there will be a little bit of a ramping up of feeling for those – particularly where they have got poor infrastructure.”
He said it is difficult to gauge whether there are any patterns among the inspected farms because of the sheer number of farms in the region.
“We don’t have a snapshot on what they look like on any given day. It’s very hard to give a snapshot or trend – we got to over 500 this year, and we can tell you how those 500 look on that day.”
An inspection of another 500 would be vastly different, he said.
“We go on some farms and there’s really good improvement and we go on other farms and there’s been no change – some are improving, some aren’t and we’re having to ramp up our attention on those ones.”
Many are also repeat offenders.
The WRC is committed to making sure all farms are visited at least once every five years.
“If we haven’t seen you on five years or if we know that you have got pretty significant infrastructure or you have had significant compliance issues in the past, you can expect to see us again.”
This season has also seen farm plans being phased in as part of the government’s freshwater regulations. From August 1, farmers in the Waipa catchment will have 18 months to submit their plans for certification.
Lynch was optimistic that these plans will help lift compliance levels in the region.
“It’s another mechanism to get that behaviour change on the farm so we’re hoping they will have an effect.”
The council will also ramp up its communication to farmers over the next two years as these plans, along with other regulations including the nitrogen cap and intensive winter grazing rules, come into force.
“It will be about making sure people are aware of their obligations and making sure it is easy for them to engage.”
Despite the new regulations being brought in, dairy effluent compliance remains the “low-hanging fruit” for farmers, Lynch said.
“You can see it, you can quantify it, and there’s an entire industry set up to help manage it for you.”
On-farm inspections will continue into the new season and Lynch said he is fully aware of the difficulties many farmers have had this season with the wet weather. It is always taken into account when an inspection is carried out.
However, farmers who were non-compliant last season were more often than not found to have inadequate infrastructure; that was usually the cause for their non-compliance, rather than any weather issues, he said.