The number of dairy farmers found to be significantly non-compliant in the country’s largest dairy region has nearly halved, which the council says reflects the dairy industry’s commitment to addressing its environmental issues.
The council inspected 1172 farms last season over the 12 months from July 2020, of which 81 (7%) were found to be significantly non-compliant.
In the previous season, the council inspected 820 farms and found 102 (12.4%) had significant non-compliant issues.
“We call it as we see it and on the face of it, the past 12 months there’s been a really good improvement,” regional compliance team leader Patrick Lynch says.
“I don’t think we would have to go back too many years to where significant non-compliance was nearly 20%.
“I think the last year to us was the most significant step in improvement. We got to a good number of farms and across the board, a significant reduction in significant noncompliance.”
The number of fully compliant farmers has lifted almost 2.5 times, from 176 (22%) in 2019-20 to 425, or 36%.
Around 57% (506) farmers had minor breaches of compliance, down from 67% the previous season. The bulk of these breaches are for technical issues, such as a lack of confirmation of a sealed effluent pond.
It shows there was still plenty of scope for farmers to further improve their compliance, Lynch says.
The council also concluded 15 prosecutions in the courts, but these were all based on issues related to previous years.
The improvement in compliance meant the council had initiated fewer prosecutions than previous years. While the result is by no means perfect – the improvement made by farmers had to be acknowledged, Lynch says.
The higher rate of compliance also allowed the council to inspect more farms than last season, which is more than the previous season because less time was spent being tied up with non-compliant farmers.
The improvement was the result of farmers investing in better on-farm infrastructure and properly managing that infrastructure, rural compliance team leader Stuart Stone says.
The mild winter weather last season may also have been a factor.
“The investment in that infrastructure is awesome, but also the farm owners – the behavioural change – they are utilising their systems better and to their full potential.”
Dairy companies had also stepped up and were better supporting farmers. There was greater collaboration now between council and these companies, he says.
Stone says poor effluent storage was the biggest issue among the significantly non-compliant farms.
The yearly inspections include re-visiting 304 farms that were either non-compliant the previous year or other farms the council classifies as high risk because of its effluent storage system.
“We have had a big improvement in the high-risk area. Of the high-risk sites, 36% of them were fully compliant, 14% of them were significantly non-compliant.”
Stone says this was a significant drop from the previous year. Many of these farms had invested in new infrastructure, which had reduced the risk of spillage.
Farmers are also manging to remain compliant despite the widespread staffing shortages caused by the border closures, Stone says.
“Farm owners are out there milking the cows and it’s a big effort to do what they have done with fewer staff.”