Sunday, December 13, 2009

Cubicle Dairy Farm Consents Progressing

In line with what we predicted it seems as if the plans to build massive cubicle dairy 'factory' farms are progressing well. Despite what looks like posturing from both the government and Fonterra (the latter already has a similar unit in China) a report in yesterday's Timaru Herald states that resource consents have already been granted for some of the work:

"Waitaki District Council is standing by its decision to grant land-use consent to a proposed series of controversial cubicle dairy farms.
Five Rivers, South Down Holdings and Williamson Holdings have all lodged consent applications with Environment Canterbury for land, air and water use in the Upper Waitaki sites.
The proposals have been criticised by dairy exporter Fonterra, and Prime Minister John Key has said the Government does not support the idea, which would collectively have more than 17,000 cows in 18 cubicle farms for 24 hours a day for eight months of the year, and 12 hours a day for the remaining four months. 

However, the Waitaki District Council, in October, granted land-use consent for intensive farming – collectively involving more than 100ha of earthworks – to all three companies. Five Rivers also received a certificate of compliance to install underground pump stations and pipeline from Lake Ohau.
Planning consents manager David Campbell said as the proposals were not within areas classified as outstanding natural landscapes, the environmental effects these consents would have on the area were considered to be less than minor. "Our plan allows for farming activity within the rural scenic zone, and we did not feel the triggers were reached."

He said because the farms were a long distance away from any nearby property, the council did not feel there were many affected parties..." Read more Here

Which is rather strange considering that 1,500 objections have been lodged, some of them from as far away as Britain and France. Local residents in the area are deeply concerned about the impact on the fragile ecosystem of the Mckenzie Basin, DOC has a 400ha. reserve at Glen Eyre Down and the Aoraki Conservation Board has concerns: From the  Mckenzie Guradians' - Plea to Preserve Paradise

"According to its consent application, Five Rivers hopes to convert about 3800ha near Ohau Downs into dairy farming. The company will establish seven stand-alone dairy farms, which will house the cows up to 300 days of the year. It estimates a total of more than 54,000 litres of dairy effluent will be discharged daily. It proposes to mitigate any harm to water quality through an extensive management plan, including storage ponds.

Southdown Holdings has already lodged consent applications to take water to irrigate Glen Eyre Downs as part of the Upper Waitaki Consent processes and plans to establish six separate stand-alone dairy farms over more than 2100ha. The farms will be able to hold up to 7000 cows in total, leading to a possible daily discharge of more than 93,000 litres of effluent.

The Glen Eyre Downs site is also home to a 400ha Department of Conservation reserve, which acts as a wetland habitat for black stilts, while three watercourses cross the property.

The consent application noted that Southdown Holdings had done significant work in protecting the environment, removing millions of wilding pines in the last two years.

Agricultural research scientist and Aoraki Conservation board member Dr John Keoghan said he was concerned by the developments. “These areas are very fragile,” he said. “The depleted Mackenzie soils have high soluble aluminium levels, and these are intensive operations above and beyond anything that has been done before in the region. “I would like to know how much actual field research, as opposed to modelling, has been done on the effects such intensified farming would have on the region.” Dr Keoghan said that, although he had no problem with dryland farming practices in the region, he was wary at the move towards dairying.

“Even before you get to the issue of nitrate leaching, there are concerns about the visual pollution as well. This can’t be overestimated. One of the appeals of the basin is its tawny tussocks and unique dryland qualities.”

Should Williamson Holdings’ consent application to establish a dairy farm at Killermont Station be accepted, it would cover more than 3600ha and have a maximum of 3850 cows. In its consent application, the company said it was unlikely that leaching or seepage from irrigation would be excessive. (ed. by definition some leaching is likely?)

“Given the rate at which soil is lost from the plains area in the absence of a vegetation cover, this is a positive ecological outcome. The alternative to irrigation is to leave the land as it is and continue to graze or crop it in the absence of additional water. The current status of the land is unproductive.”
The Guardians website posted this update on 9 December:
Opponents of a plan for intensive dairy farming in the MacKenzie Basin have told a consent hearing the irrigation would irreparably destroy the landscape.
Three companies are applying to establish 16 new farms in the upper Waitaki area, with plans to house nearly 18,000 cows in cubicle stables part of the year.
The MacKenzie Guardians environmental group has told a panel of commissioners that the applications are an inappropriate use of an outstanding natural landscape.
Lawyer Phernne Tancock said the proposal would have a significant effect on the ecology and destroy the landscape which was a drawcard for tourists and film companies.
The hearings began two months ago and will continue next year.
One of the companies, Five Rivers Limited, whose director is Kees Zeestraten, wants to establish seven dairy farms with up to 7000 cows at Ohau Downs near Omarama.
Another dairy company owned by Mr Zeestraten, Union Station Dairies in Southland, was this year fined $25,000 for breaching discharge consents.
Green Party co-leader Russel Norman says granting the Five Rivers consent applications would be madness, given Mr Zeestraten’s history."
Copyright © 2009 Radio New Zealand

For background see NZ farmers plan to 'factory farm' dairy cows

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