Greenpeace is today condemning a Government decision to reverse rules that would protect water by regulating intensive winter grazing.
Winter grazing churns paddocks to deep mud because intensive numbers of stock are confined to small feeding areas for longer than the soil and water can sustain. This mud washes into drains, streams and rivers, posing a risk to human health and the environment.
The Government has proposed changes to regulations initially designed to give effect to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management. These changes include getting rid of rules to prevent pugging damage from intensive winter grazing and instead recommending farmers take ‘reasonably practicable’ steps to reduce pugging.
Greenpeace agriculture campaigner Christine Rose says today’s document shows that instead of facing up to the problem of too many cows, the Government is simply delaying the inevitable.
“The pugging and water pollution caused by intensive winter grazing are an obvious result of having too many cows on land that can’t support them,” says Rose.
“From nitrate contamination in drinking water to slimy, lifeless rivers, the effects of New Zealand’s six million dairy cows are plain to see. Fonterra itself has said we’ve reached ‘peak milk’.
“If the Government is serious about keeping land, water and communities healthy, the only option is to lower cow stocking rates and support farmers to move away from intensive dairying towards more diverse, regenerative and organic farming.”
Recent footage and photos from freshwater campaigner Geoff Reid shows cows in Southland and Otago crammed in paddocks churned to mud, with sediment washing into rivers.
Southland has seen a steep rise in the number of dairy cows during the past few decades. In 1990 there were around 38,000 cows. By 2019 there were 636,000 cows – a 1584% increase.
Rose says the New Zealand environment can’t carry that many dairy cows.
“When cows are kept on winter crops until the soil is bare, there is no vegetation to hold soil in place or suck up nitrogen-rich cow urine. The run-off then contaminates rivers and groundwater, leading to the high levels of nitrate contamination in drinking water that we’re seeing in parts of the country with intensive dairying.
“Nitrate contamination in drinking water has been linked to health effects from bowel cancer to premature births. By giving up on intensive winter grazing regulations, this Government is putting dairy profits above human health.”
Greenpeace is calling on the Government to phase out synthetic nitrogen fertiliser, lower cow stocking rates and invest in supporting farmers to transition to regenerative organic farming.
“Instead of taking action, the Government has listened to a minority group of vocal dairy lobbyists. Backing away from regulating intensive dairying doesn’t provide certainty to farmers, environmentalists or regional council regulators. Nor does it support farmers that are already doing the right thing by their animals, land and communities,” says Rose.
“We can have a future where farms work within the limits of the land, with thriving rural communities that benefit from healthy soil and clean water. But we need real Government leadership to get us there, not capitulation to big dairy players.”