Greenpeace Aotearoa is launching a new petition calling for an end to mud farming – intensive winter grazing. The petition comes as new images of cows belly-deep in mud this winter provide further evidence that the country is trying – and failing – to sustain too many cows.
Aerial footage of Southland and Otago paddocks, released by river advocates Geoff Reid and Matt Coffey, shows intensively-grazed cows crammed in paddocks churned to mud, and significant amounts of sediment washing off paddocks into rivers.
Greenpeace senior agriculture campaigner Christine Rose says intensification of dairying over the past three decades has pushed cows into areas of land that simply cannot support that many animals.
“Whether it’s winter paddocks churned to deep mud, sick and slimy rivers or nitrate contamination seeping into our drinking water, the effects of too many cows are plain to see,” says Rose.
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.
“The simple fact of the matter is, New Zealand can not sustain this many dairy cows. That’s why we’ve seen a massive increase in the amount of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser to rapidly grow grass to feed increasing numbers of cows,” says Rose.
“Then winter comes along and many of these cows are intensively grazed until they’re wallowing and sometimes calving deep in mud. It’s terrible for both the cows and the soil. 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 effluent and sediment then contaminates rivers and groundwater.
“We can see the devastating effects of too much nitrate run-off from intensive dairying in our sick and slimy rivers, and in nitrate-contaminated drinking water linked to bowel cancer and premature births.
“For healthy land, healthy water, healthy animals and healthy communities, we need to lower cow stocking rates and move to diverse, regenerative organic farming that works with nature, not against it.”