July 23, 2008

ORC to Farmers: Spill Effluent at Your Peril

By BISHOP, Diane

THE Otago Regional Council is taking no prisoners as it steps up its campaign against dirty dairy farmers.

ORC land resource officer Bruce Monaghan said the Council would continue to prosecute farmers who applied dairy effluent to pasture beyond field capacity.

"If you're not doing it right, you will be caught," he said.

Last month 18 dairy farmers or companies were prosecuted and fined a total of more than $100,000 after charges were brought against them by the ORC in the Balclutha District Court.

Mr Monaghan described the recent cases as a "lose-lose" scenario for both parties because it did not produce a good environmental outcome.

"The farmer gets a criminal conviction and there's a lot of time spent going to court," he said.

Inadequate effluent storage systems had been a major factor in the prosecutions, while application methods using travelling irrigators -- which were known to be inherently unreliable -- had made the problem worse.

Mr Monaghan said many farmers had been caught out by a particularly wet season, which had forced them to irrigate when soils were already at field capacity.

He outlined some key survival strategies to farmers at a recent field day on Kevin and Loma Critchley's dairy farm at Kelso, West Otago.

Farmers were urged to install sufficient effluent storage systems to help carry them through a prolonged wet spell, and to adopt easy- care low effluent application systems such as K-Line. Mr Monaghan said dairy farmers using travelling irrigators should ensure there was enough storage capacity for at least two months, but for increased flexibility during calving or extended wet periods this should be increased to three months.

This was particularly true for West Otago's mainly pallic soils, which had a pronounced clay pan and mole/tile drainage.

However, only six weeks' storage was required for low-rate systems on the same soil type.

Mr Monaghan said an increasing number of dairy farmers were installing or switching to low-rate effluent application systems, such as K-Line.

They were cost effective, not as labour intensive, less likely to break down and nutrient loss was reduced, he said.

Mr Monaghan said fertiliser was now a valuable resource: "Effluent is a highly valuable liquid fertiliser and it should be treated as such." Most travelling irrigators would apply effluent at around 60 to 70ml an hour compared with a K-Line system at 3 to 4ml an hour.

Soil moisture sites have been established at Clydevale, Kelso and the Clutha Delta to help farmers decide when to irrigate.

Mr Monaghan said while the ORC would continue to prosecute farmers who breached the rules around effluent disposal, it also showed compassion.

Two cases did not go to court last year because of a cardiac arrest and a family bereavement, he said.


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