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Urban residents must stop fouling water

25/01/2013 9:25:00 a.m. 

James Houghton is Federated Farmers Waikato president.

I got a chance to look through the Great New Zealand Science Project website the other night. Reading through the comments plenty was being said about what farmers should be doing about water quality.

Much of it was the usual "blame-farming-not-cities" comments, although there were also some interesting suggestions about getting people from towns and cities out to farms to contribute towards the funding and labour of fencing off streams.

Until I added my two cents, nothing was being discussed about the need for urban areas to take responsibility for their share of waterway pollution. It would be great if more farmers could take a few minutes to go online and help dispel some of the myths about water quality.

This website has been created to get feedback from the general population about what they value in terms of government spending on scientific research over the next few years. I have asked for more research to understand nutrient pathways and more education for the general population on what everyone, rural and urban, can do to reduce pollutants from reaching our waterways.

We need to have a greater understanding of what is polluting all our rivers and I am interested in discovering more about the effects of urban sewage treatment on them.

It would be good to have some definitive answers about what sewage-treatment processes remove and what they do not and also look at where this treated waste ends up, which all too often is either in rivers or in the sea.

Perhaps part of the reason so few comments are being made in online forums by farming organisations is because of the huge amount of work being done to actually find solutions for our industry.

One example is DairyNZ's work on the Strategy for Sustainable Dairy Farming. This strategy for the industry is undergoing a complete refresh and overhaul, with some help from Federated Farmers Dairy, the Dairy Women's Network and the Dairy Companies Association of New Zealand.

One of the main points to come from the review has been to reiterate that sustainability means getting all aspects of the industry working well. This ranges from the economic side of things, to the social and cultural aspects, as well as looking at how to minimise and mitigate environmental impacts.

It is vital dairy farming's first priority is to remain competitive on a world stage by producing safe, high-quality dairy products at a good, competitive cost. It is equally vital the industry is responsible for the wider environmental, animal welfare and people-related outcomes of dairy farming. Dairy farming must work for all New Zealanders.

The strategy review is ongoing and those who are interested can have a look at dairynz.co.nz.

It was good to see the trend for prices on the GlobalDairyTrade internet auction continue to improve. Last week's auction saw another rise, 1.1 per cent, on the back of a promising 2 per cent the fortnight before.

Fingers crossed this positivity continues and we see a similar bounce back in our season payout expectations.

Those living in the King Country will be familiar with the issues The Lines Company (TLC) is facing with its electricity supply. Unfortunately, in the short term the upgrade to TLC's infrastructure to provide high-quality electricity supply around the King Country means power outages have become a frustrating fact of life for everyone in outlying rural parts of the area.

Federated Farmers is aware these outages are adding a lot of pressure on farming businesses. In today's world, most New Zealanders find the occasional power outage of a couple of hours or so a newsworthy event. They would be horrified at the prospect of having their power shut off for up to a day, every few weeks, which is the experience of some King Country farmers.

No-one accepts this is a reasonable situation and Federated Farmers has been working with TLC to find a cost-effective and reasonable way forward. Unfortunately, this is likely to involve increased frequency and duration of planned outages in the short term, in order to do the work to get the network up to scratch.

It is about 60 per cent cheaper, and a lot quicker, to have the work done on dead lines rather than live ones.

Another issue which has come up in our discussions has been the push, not just in Waikato, by regional councils to stop people burning wood for heating. Cleaning up air quality is a laudable aim, but as a result many transmission networks are coming under pressure, especially at peak times, such as after work, when people turn on their heat pumps, start cooking dinner and watch their televisions.

The councils did not consult the lines companies about their ability to cope with the extra demands on their networks and some, such as TLC, face real pressures during these times.

Another issue that has come up around electricity is when landowners find themselves liable for damage to a transmission network caused by tenant employees. A recent case saw a landowner receive a bill for a thousand dollars after a tenant lit a bonfire, which happened to burn down a nearby power pole. It might pay to check your tenants' proximity to such things and make sure they know to be cautious around these rather expensive pieces of wood.

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