Fonterra Check Farm's Effluent Management

( Fonterra is rolling out a major initiative to check every farm’s effluent management infrastructure, every year in a move to address non-compliance with regional council dairy effluent rules. It includes doubling the resources applied, to help suppliers achieve sustainable dairying on farm.

Announcing the programme, Gary Romano, Managing Director, Fonterra Trade and Operations said it will initially be piloted in the Waikato from March this year, with national rollout from the start of the 2010/2011 financial year in August.

“Our goal is to halve significant non-compliance with council dairy effluent rules within 18 months, then trending to zero. Going out to every farm across the country, every year as part of the annual Farm Dairy Assessment is the best way to achieve this. We will be working in partnership with our farmers to achieve a marked improvement in compliance.”

Mr Romano said Clean Streams Accord results for 2008/09, which showed national significant non-compliance with council rules now stood at 15% compared to 12% in the prior year, were “completely unacceptable”. There were reasons, but no excuses for the decline.

“Compliance monitoring has been stepped up, so obviously more non-compliance is being identified. We have also seen monitoring extended beyond the farm dairy to other areas such as feed pads and stock underpasses. But while these are contributors for the poor result, they are no excuse.

“Fonterra is determined to get on top of this effluent issue. The New Zealand community expects it, our customers expect it and the vast majority of our complying farmers expect it. We are determined to deliver on those expectations and partnering with our farmers to provide advice and support is the best way to achieve this.

“We will also be looking to regional councils to partner with us as we’re partnering with our farmers so we get year-on-year consistency in monitoring and a shared effort to lift performance. Experience shows the most proactive councils who are working constructively with farmers are getting the best results and we’d like to see this mirrored in every region.”

Under the new programme, Fonterra will check every farm’s dairy effluent infrastructure every year as part of the annual Farm Dairy Assessment. Systems found to be at risk of non-compliance will be referred to a Sustainable Dairying Specialist. They will work with affected farmers to develop action plans and a timeframe for implementation. Where there is critical non-compliance, immediate action will be required.

Mr Romano said the “every farm, every year” initiative is a step up in Fonterra’s work with its shareholders to improve compliance with dairy effluent rules.

“Farmers will understand that this is an investment in a support and advisory programme to help them meet council rules and avoid the high financial consequences of failing to meet those rules. It’s a collaborative approach with us working alongside them. Shareholders will see the sense of Fonterra getting more proactive in farm effluent checks which ultimately will save them higher costs through avoiding potential penalties later on. They will also welcome our working with councils to get consistency in monitoring and enforcement.”

Mr Romano said the lack of year-on-year consistency by some councils in enforcing effluent regulations was creating understandable frustration among suppliers.

“We note that regional councils now have a code of practice for monitoring and we look forward to this being consistently applied. All councils should be mirroring those councils who are working constructively with farmers to get improvements.”

The programme complemented the Effluent Improvement Scheme (EIS) introduced last year.

Under the EIS, Fonterra steps in to work with a farmer who has been subject to council enforcement action for non-compliance, ensuring remedial plans are put in place. Deductions from the milk cheque – $1500 for infringement notices and $3,000 for prosecutions – will be made where there have been prosecutions. Proceeds from these deductions are then applied to on-farm remedial work. The ultimate sanction for persistent non-compliance is refusing to collect milk, a sanction Fonterra had applied twice last year.

“We know through our Effluent Improvement Scheme that farmers referred to our Sustainable Dairying Specialists are achieving improved effluent management when they receive the specialist advice needed to get their systems compliant year-round,” said Mr Romano.

“But rather than wait for referrals, we’re stepping up our support to farmers, helping them with an annual check of effluent infrastructure. To do this, we are doubling the resources committed to this task. We are confident this will help our shareholders identify any potential problems which could affect their compliance.”

Mr Romano said the “every farm, every year” approach reflected the importance Fonterra placed on lifting compliance rates.

“We are not taking over enforcement which remains councils’ responsibility. What we are doing is getting early warning systems in place to help farmers spot potential problems and address them before problems arise. We have set an ambitious target to halve non-compliance in 18 months, trending to zero. But we can’t meet these ambitious targets alone. We look forward to our farmers and regional councils working with us and DairyNZ to achieve these goals.”

The new initiative sits alongside commitments already made by DairyNZ, Fonterra and Federated Farmers to improve compliance rates. These include the EnviroWalk tool which enables farmers to self-check effluent systems, the AgITO effluent training module for farm staff and the soon-to-be released code of practice for suppliers of effluent management equipment and advice.

Mr Romano said the Waikato has been chosen as a pilot area because only 15% of farms in that region are currently monitored annually by Environment Waikato.

“This means fewer suppliers at risk of non-compliance are referred to Fonterra by Environment Waikato for follow-up consultations, advice and effluent management plan development.”

Mr Romano said he was confident the “every farm, every year” initiative would be supported by suppliers.

“The vast majority are committed to sustainable dairying and comply with regional council rules. They will share our disappointment in these non-compliance results and share our determination to improve them.”

Media Release 18 March 2010 from Fonterra.