Yesterday the Minister for Environment, David Parker, admitted that too many cows exist in New Zealand.
The non-sustainability of New Zealand’s large dairy herds is not new and nor is it surprising given the high demands of the dairy sector. For years a healthy core of people, mainly Green and Labour supporters, have come out with letters, petitions, aricles and interviews in the media as well as protests have been pointing out the decline of water quality nation wide.
However the rate of reduction in New Zealand cattle numbers is not sufficient. Nor is it happening very fast because unless timetables are set, a farmer might well decide to procrastinate in terms of complying.
This article was written in 2015 as the dairy boom that dominated New Zealand agriculture for most of the last 20 years came to an end. Nearly three years since the article, many of the pressures have been brought into focus quite crudely, either by the public deciding that they had had enough of the agricultural lobby turning a blind eye to the plight of rivers affected by large dairy herds. It was estimated in September 2017 that New Zealand’s dairy herds use the equivalent water to the needs of 60 million people or roughly the population of Italy.
Aside from the large contribution to environmental degradation in terms of water quality and occasionally, quantity, there are legitimate concerns about cows belching and contributing to our climate changes emissions. Whilst not a problem that is new by any means, it is perhaps new in terms of being yet to be subject of a comprehensive plan across industry and government agencies for tackling emissions.
So, what has been done?
- The former Minister for Environment, Nick Smith allowed a plan to go through that would announce the protection of the main stem of major rivers, but not their tributaries which meant any progress made in the main stems of rivers would be undone by pollution from tributaries
- The Minister for the Environment, David Parker has announced changes to nutrient limits as to what can go into a river, which are intended to directly assist with the improvement of water quality around New Zealand
What needs to happen?
- Regional Councils need to stop treading warily about their patches and start prosecuting those that violate their plans; national standards and other legal instruments with regards to violators of water policy.
- Fines that can be charged for violators need to be significantly overhauled
- Changes in land use to sheep, cropping