Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Farmer denial over waituna

Last week, Campbell Live ran a piece on the dirty reality behind our "100% Pure" brand, focusing on the internationally renowned Waituna Wetlands. The wetlands are currently under threat from increased dairying in the region - thirteen new dairy farms in the Waituna catchment in the past decade, and a tripling in the number of cows in just ten years. As in other parts of the country, the shit from those cows ends up in the local rivers and streams, and in Waituna, that means it ends up in the lagoon.

But not according to DairyNZ CEO Tim Mackle. When asked about the Waituna's decline, he repeatedly said that he was not convinced it was effluent at fault. So, what does he think is causing the problem then? Sunspots? Pixies, maybe? Or is it just a "natural" phenomena, which just mysteriously coincides with his farmers pumping more shit into the lagoon (in the same way that climate change supposedly just mysteriously coincides with us pumping more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere)?

This is pure denial, and it isn't helping. Contrary to Mackle's obfuscation, the science here is well understood. Cowshit is nutrients. More nutrients equals poorer water quality, and in extreme cases, eutrophication, oxygen depletion, and the death of the local ecosystem. We've seen it in Rotorua, we're seeing it in the Manawatu, and we're seeing it in Waituna. But I guess its hard for farmers to accept that inconvenient truth when their profitability depends on them not accepting it.

If we want to save Waituna, then we are going to have to limit dairy farming in the area, by e.g. fencing streams, banning dairying on adjacent land, and limiting stock numbers. Dairy farmers can either cooperate with that, or they can oppose it. But before they dig their heels in and stick their heads in a cowpat, they should think seriously about the consequences. Their profitability depends on exports. And ecologically sensitive European consumers may feel differently about buying New Zealand butter if they know what it really costs.