Tasmanian Times

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche


Dirty Dairy …

Lindsay Tuffin: This story takes me back a half century to an idyllic upbringing … on the farm at Natone (North-West Coast, Tasmania) before industrial farming destroyed it all. There used to be a creek, The Chasm Creek, which trickled from a spring at the back of the farm. The creek contained blackfish … and giant freshwater crayfish, which we used to entice to the surface with the odd dead rabbit on a string. It’s all gone now … destroyed by a huge water reservoir a subsequent farmer installed as he went full-tilt into industrial enterprise, gobbling up neighbouring farms on the get-bigger-or-get-out principle. There is another memory from those days: Dad spent 4.5 years in German POW camps in WW2 … and I have never forgotten his deep sadness at the silence in the old-growth at the back of the farm after strychnine (to kill rabbits) laid waste to all birdlife whose joyous song echoed from the old-growth. There was something about birds and flight for those POWs … that wondrous freedom … NZ shares with Tasmania so much … including Gondwana, 1080, industrial dairy …

Over hills and dales the giant irrigators stride. Central Otago drylands are no more, on the Maniototo near Ranfurly.

Rotary irrigator in action

Where does all the water go? It goes to the huge rotary irrigators, some over a kilometre long that can been best seen from space or google earth. They are fed by water pumped from the aquafers under the Canterbury Plains. They have been sustaining a dairy and land price boom.

The mainstream of the Ashley river. February 2011. A once strong flowing clear water river is reduced to a trickle. There could be direct take going on, but the river is just being drained into a depleted aquafer.

Kuku Creek, also known as Leggats Creek, about 30km north of Christchurch. Once a clear flowing spring creek of the Canterbury Plains with nearly waist deep water over a smooth gravel bottom. It was a great habitat for trout, eel and native fish. Now just the shallow drain seen here with grey slime substitute for water. No observable life left in it now.

Today, the problems of our rivers has been condensed by many to a single issue – pollution arising from “dirty dairy”.

In this second part of rivers, we look at “dirty dairy”. In some districts it is the big issue, especially on east coast drylands where there is sufficient water to supply large-scale irrigation.

Here, the combination of water abstraction and dairy pollution makes it more than 95% of the problem – almost 100%. Canterbury, the focus of this section is the single biggest “dirty dairy” district, but there are others. There are also more in the pipeline, such as Wairarapa and Central Hawke Bay where there are planned irrigation projects.

Areas with adequate rainfall and different soil types, such as Waikato, we deal with in the next section.

For convenience pollution can be separated into nutrients and chemical contamination of the waterways.

Dealing first with nutrients. We’ve got to remember that rivers are living systems; they need food – nutrients. A sterile body of pure water will not support life.

The issue is not nutrients but the balance of nutrients, though too much maybe worse than too little. Dairy itself has been around since Marsden’s mission at the Bay of Islands in the early 19th century. Dairy and its nutrient run-off has really only become a problem over the last 30 years, and it has really only impinged on the wider public psyche in the last 5 or 6 years.

Prior to that, it was an industry based on nitrogen-fixing using clover. In those days, milk processing was carried out in the many small dairy factories that peppered the land.

They were almost always close to a river to get rid of the whey. The famous fly fishing rivers of yesteryear – like the Manawatu, Mangatainoka, and Makakahi did not appear to suffer from some nutrient enhancement. Now though, it is another game, much bigger and more intensive – it is no longer nutrient enhancement, it is nutrient overload. Though there is still some life in these rivers, they are nothing like they were.

It was probably the “Pay or Take” deal signed between the government and the developers for the Maui gas field that in an odd way had a lot to do with changes to agriculture and ultimately to rivers.

New Zealand was committed to taking the gas, and suddenly as a nation, we had more natural gas than we could poke a stick at. That was until Robert Muldoon and his “think big” programmes of the late 1970’s early 80’s appeared on the scene. To use up the gas, programmes such as gas to gasoline and gas to urea fertiliser (nitrogenous) were introduced.

There was soon a lot of fertiliser that had to find a home. To help move it there were even ads on the tele showing a young man turning up before an admiring family in a new car, and boasting of the glories of urea, how now, with cheap and effectively subsidised fertiliser, the future of dairy had a rosy glow.

Suddenly dairy was booming with rising world prices and cheap urea. Waikato dairy land prices soon went through the roof and suddenly the younger members of the dairy industry were looking for somewhere to expand.

Dairy herds began to be shipped south to displace sheep in Southland. It was a “push-pull” situation. As one observer noted, Southland banks were not interested in a $60 to $100 000 loan to support a sheep farmer for a new tractor, but they welcomed an application for a $3 or $4 million to do a dairy conversion.

It was irrigation that started a boom on Canterbury dryland. On places like Rakaia Island, what was once a low-density pastoral operation on old riverbed covered with tussock and matagauri (thorn bush) is now intensive irrigated dairy on very light land.

It would not be possible without pumped water, supplementary feed and fertiliser – it is almost hydroponics! By then, it was happening all over the country, intensification in higher rainfall areas of traditional production such as Waikato and Taranaki, and irrigation driving the growth in drier areas like the Wairarapa, Maniatoto (Ranfurly) and even the McKenzie Country.

Although horticulture and pastoral farming have intensified over the last couple of decades, it is particularly dairy where the greatest growth has occurred. It is really on the lightest land, that historically may have seemed the least suitable –that has seen the greatest growth and at the greatest environmental cost. It makes Canterbury a good case study.

It is on the Canterbury Plains that the combination of superphosphate, subsidised urea (nitrogen) and the wild west of water extraction for irrigation has made intensive dairy into the perfect environmental storm.

To this has to be added the concentration of nutrients produced off site, through “imported” feed supplements. Some, such as imported palm kernel is a by-product of the destruction of tropical rainforest, the others like the maize that you can see being grown all over New Zealand is transported to dairy farm areas and fed to stock. This has the effect of localising the nutrient burden drawn from widespread sources to a single location. In terms of pollution, not only do we have to consider nutrients, but also heavy metals, cadmium particularly that comes from imported superphosphate, and hormones that come from the urine of thousands of cows. In Canterbury, they all end up in the water table.

What has happened in Canterbury is “dairy hydroponics”; the irrigation and fertilisation on light soils of only moderate fertility. It has allowed some of the highest yields both per cow and per hectare in the country. It is interesting to compare Canterbury with another traditional region i.e. Waikato as well as the national average.


Compared to Waikato, North Canterbury has a 48% higher yield per hectare and a yield 38% higher than the national average. Not only that, in terms of yield per cow, North Canterbury has an 18% greater yield than Waikato and is 13% higher than the national average.

All this was happening on soils that had, in the later part of the 19th century been the scene of a “dust bowl” experience. A short lived wheat boom had swept the area, but it soon sputtered out after it had stripped the natural fertility of the light soils and the northwest winds did the rest.

Comparatively, the land was cheap, and the vast aquafer under it was initially undervalued, so, with the addition of fertilisers and supplements, a dairy boom was on. In a rush for milk, there was a dairy version of Klondike, land prices took off. The capital gain of soaring land prices has always been very much a part of the equation.

The dairy boom was being carried out with little or no regard to the water resource, the land, or the long term environmental consequences. Others though were concerned.

At the 2007 local body elections, the regional Council, ECan gained four councillors standing on the platform of opposition to the Central Plains Water Scheme plus a general concern for what they saw as the plundering of a limited resource. That created more than un-ease with many of the old players in the district who feared they may miss out on the bonanza due to the council applying water restrictions.

The “farmer friendly” government of the day swiftly moved to rectify the situation. They sacked the elected councillors and appointed seven “user friendly” commissioners.

Since then, under the guidance of the commissioners, water
abstraction has proceeded apace. This includes the Upper Plains Scheme which takes the water that used to flow to the Rakaia River from Lake Coleridge by a series of huge canals.

Currently the scheme is incomplete, and has come to a halt, possibly due to falling dairy prices. Even if the Upper Plains Scheme is re-vitalised, it will by now only be an addition to an already seriously damaged ecosystem.

Dairy is not the only activity on the Canterbury plains, It has always been a wheat producer, though irrigation has only lifted tonnages from 9 tonne per hectare to 15 tonnes – not really a game changer. Seed for crops and horticulture, such as radishes and bok choy, have also taken off and Canterbury is now a major world source, but it is really dairy that has had made the biggest economic, social and ecological mark.

The catalogue of environmental damage beggars belief. They range from build-up of nitrogen in the soils and water, as well as nitrogen contamination of the water tables.

Nitrogen is also deposited by cow urine, and in this form easily enters the water table through the light porous soils. There was also a build-up of phosphorous fertilisers, though this appears to have peaked; their levels still remain un-acceptably high.

A lot of New Zealand’s phosphorous (superphosphate) fertiliser has come from ancient guano deposits on Nauru in the Pacific – it contains the heavy metal, cadmium, a poison which can even show up in town supplies as it has in that of Martinborough. Hormones, like oestrogen from cow urine can also show up in the human population as reduced sperm count in males.

Giardia and E-coli in water supplies can be from dairy, but there are also many other sources such as sub-standard sewerage treatment.

The problems for Canterbury are not just the contamination of the environment from dairy. There are as well the consequences of the massive irrigation draw-off of water that used to flow to the sea, maintaining both riverbeds and coast.

This includes the depletion of low-water summer flow in the rivers resulting in the shallow water being warmed, permitting algae growth as well as a reduction in dissolved oxygen. More critically below the rivers and plains, the depleted aquafers make the actual braided gravel river channels act almost like a blotting paper on the freshes and floods, sucking up the water that normally moves the bed-load of gravels from the mountains to the coast.

There are several consequences that can play out from this: The first being that the bed load, instead of being moved down to the coast, is building up far upstream, raising the river channels above the level of the surrounding plains.

Here, the risk becomes that a severe weather event could cause a major flood; this could either blow the gravel out downstream, or, the water will try and go round the blockage, breaking through old flood banks and flow out across farms and communities.

Another consequence is that many New Zealand coasts, like Canterbury’s, will recede if they are not being replenished by the constant supply of gravels; this is already evident at the Rakaia huts, where there is now coastal erosion, before the irrigation boom, there was none.

For the small rivers of the plains that are fed mainly from springs, the news is all bad. Some are now no more than a dried line of gravel with a few grasses.

Others, which were once smooth flows of clear water running through the farms (with a few cows) are now shallow streams of some slimy grey substance that is supposed to pass for water – even water weeds have trouble growing in it.

Somewhat belatedly, Fish and Game are talking about a winter closing of the fishing season for lowland Canterbury waters; many were once well-known fishing streams which in the past also supported healthy populations of native galaxids and eels. The winter closure is a bit like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted; the aquatic life of many of the streams is now no more!

It is on what was once the home of dryland agriculture that irrigated intensive farming has had its greatest impact. It would be fair to say that 95% of the problems on the Canterbury Plains are from dairy, but water abstraction and altered river flows are also a part of the problem, to that, there must be added the pollution from fertilisers and heavy metals.

If in the unlikely event that we could wave a wand and it was to stop today, how long would it take for natural processes like leaching to restore the land to an un-polluted state? If we look at nitrates, we have the issue of two standards, one, the WHO drinking water at 11.3mg per litre, or the much lower ecological limit of 0.61mg per litre, above which oxygen depletes and freshwater bio-diversity degrades.

At the concentration permitted in “drinking water” there would be little aquatic life left.

Mike Joy cites the case of a Ballance Farm Environment award winning 1014 hectare farm that has leached from it 48kg of nitrogen per hectare per annum. As he points out, this one farm generates enough nitrates to contaminate 4 million cubic metres of water to maximum WHO drinking standards – or 72 million litres contaminated to the ecological limit of 0.61mg per litre.

As the lowland streams that once carried this away now have so little, or even no flow, it all has to go somewhere, and that is to the aquafer from where Christchurch town water is drawn!

A group of scientists from the Pierre and Marie Curie University of Paris reported on tracking the fate of nitrogen fertilisers applied to crops in France. They found that an original 1982 application was still migrating to ground water 30 years later.

They estimated that it could continue to enter the water table for up to 80 years – on the face of it, 20 years dairy, and 80 odd years to recover from it. That does not include the hormones (oestrogen) and growth promoters in animal urine as well as heavy metals. It is something New Zealand is going to have to live with for a long time.

All this has been going on in a district which has a council which is supposed to be enforcing the requirements of the Resource Management Act and policing water quality and water abstraction.

What are they doing about it? Not much it seems. As reported in the NBR of 21/3/16, Ecan, under its government appointed commissioners is taking a soft approach. Of 24,000 consents, Ecan in the last year monitored only 16%. Of the 16% of monitored consents, it visited just 40%. Over the year, Ecan enforcement was limited to 39 written warnings, 1 abatement notice and five infringement notices.

No farmers were prosecuted, but just 3 prosecutions were taken against polluting contractors. The wild west of dirty dairy is alive and well on the Canterbury Plains under the governance of its appointed Ecan commissioners.

The proposed irrigation developments for Central Hawke Bay at Ruataniwha and in the Wairarapa are on similar light soils, and the consequences are likely to be similar. We will next look at other catchments.

W. F. (Bill) Benfield grew up in Christchurch New Zealand and graduated in Architecture from Auckland in 1968. He is a practising Architect and has also worked in London and the Northern Territory of Australia. He was Chairman of Action for the Environment in the late 1970s, and in that role assisted with submissions to the McCarthy Commission on Nuclear Energy and the Upper Otaki hydro development proposals. He assisted and gave evidence in the relator court action with the Attorney-General against the consents granted the Bank of New Zealand Head Office building in Wellington. In the mid 1980s, with Sue Delamare, he established a vineyard and winery in Martinborough. It was set up without irrigation, used passive frost protection and sought to minimise energy and spray use. It was awarded a Ballance Farm Environment Award for sustainability in 2005. The wines have achieved international recognition. From his family he inherited a lifelong interest in fly fishing and the conservation of nature. He is the author of “The Third Wave – Poisoning the Land” and the more recent “At War with Nature – Corporate Conservation and the Industry of Extinction”. Both published by Tross Publishing of Wellington New Zealand.

Bill Benfield has written extensively for Tasmanian Times … dial in ‘Bill Benfield’ to the TT search engine (Until a ‘writer category’ is established).

Author Credits: [show_post_categories parent="no" parentcategory="writers" show = "category" hyperlink="yes"]


  1. Ruth

    June 10, 2016 at 4:47 pm

    Simon , firstly , l haven’t actually accused any particular people of cruelty . I have said that certain practices are cruel, and l stand by that .
    Secondly , after some further research , yes , there were vealer-stalls in Australia . In some places in Tasmania , they still use group-stalls .
    In America and some other countries , apparently they still use the old narrow stalls , where the calves are kept in the dark and deliberately deprived of iron so that their flesh is pale.
    I can’t find information relating to what year these were discontinued in Australia , but this practice most certainly did exist here .
    I have photos in a book from the 1970’s that show the calves in these tiny stalls .
    We don’t have to agree with each other Simon , but l stand by my perspective of animal-treatment in the dairy (+ general food) industries .Perhaps you too , could check out the other side of the story .. Ok that’s it from me , l have other things to do and have joined the discussion to relate my views only .. Having done that , it’s time to say goodbye.

  2. tony lynch

    June 10, 2016 at 2:06 pm

    For those who think it clever to say that dairy cows – indeed anything – has a right to come into existence. Stop being silly! A nocturnal ejaculation (I’m using a polite image here)turns out to be a massive human rights violation! Now that’s a neat position on which to defend the abuses of industrial agriculture!

  3. Simon Warriner

    June 10, 2016 at 1:45 pm

    Ruth, Thanks for your response.

    You say your viewpoint was influenced by information pedaled by those with a very obvious agenda and you never bothered to check the other side of the story. You have continued to base your public statements accusing others of cruelty to animals on that untested information.

    It is precisely that nonsense that has destroyed the credibility of the animal rights movement in the agricultural community and generated significant levels of hostility and mistrust. It gets in the road of actually implementing change for the better because those who need influencing neither trust or respect those arguing for the change, clearly with bloody good reason.

    Clever, ethical and effective?

    Obviously not!

  4. Ruth

    June 10, 2016 at 1:17 pm

    Hi Simon , well , many years ago when l was young , l was deeply involved in an animal welfare organisation (on the mainland). There were many pamphlets and books around portraying what l said in my post .Now l don’t know if the vealer-raising situation was the case back then (the 1970’s – 1980’s) and isn’t so anymore now – or if l was fed misinformation completely. I might never know the answer to that.
    So excuse me if l got the present-day facts wrong .However , that doesn’t change my viewpoint on the dairy industry. To me , it is still a cruelty to remove babies from their mothers to kill them .. To those of you who mentioned pets – yes ,we do need to examine the keeping of animals as pets too . A lot of the time the “love” extended towards the pet is a very selfish one – with the needs of the owner for companionship the only consideration , and the needs of the pet not coming into consideration at all. Most pet dogs do not receive the physical and mental stimulation they need , for example . But that’s another different discussion .
    I’d just like to reiterate that if we feel we must use animals as food , please can we do so humanely and as ethically as possible ?

  5. Simon Warriner

    June 9, 2016 at 11:52 pm

    Re 22, not sure how I missed this earlier, must have been tired.

    “Do you all know where the removed bobby calves end up ? Often as vealer calves .. and do you know this means they are kept indoors in small pens , and deliberately kept anaemic so that their flesh is pale ? ”

    Really, Ruth? Can you please be so kind as to provide the address of the shed these alleged anaemic calves are kept in so I can take the RSPCA there.

    It must be a pretty big shed, because in about 2 months time it is going to get an awful lot of calves. Somebody must have one hell of a contract supplying all that special formula milk that keeps those calves anaemic, and they must have one hell of a vet because anaemic calves don’t last long without a lot of help.

    The truth is that bobby calves are sent to the processing works at 5 days of age, if they are up to weight, and killed and processed immediately. If there was money in keeping them and making them anaemic, farmers would know about it and they would be talking about it. They ain’t.

    Vealers, the calves from which veal is made are purchased at the point of weaning and killed then. They are beef calves in this part of the world. Making them anaemic would stunt their growth, reduce their size and actually make it impossible to sell them as vealers, which have to be very well grown to make that grade. It would also be a lot of work. Seems absolutely pointless to me.

    The farm I work on raises its calves in sheds. It is done that way because the location does not allow for running them in small paddocks. It is too exposed, to high in altitude, and not set up that way due to topography. They are put out onto grass at the point where they are ignoring their milk ration in favour of grain pellets. Other systems put their calves on grass at 3 weeks, but they have very sheltered areas that allow this to happen and are at lower altitudes. And there are endless variations between the two I have described.

    Ruth, please do all farmers the decency of responding to the points I have made. We need to know what prompts the sort of claims you are making.

  6. spikey

    June 9, 2016 at 10:23 pm

    #27 I’m still surprised (and gladdened) to hear of 30+ of these amazing creatures doing so well, i look fwd to the picture when you have better internet.

    #28 the term enslaved could be considered emotive, I use the same term for domestic pets as it is an accurate description of deprivation of liberty.

    My gastronomic enjoyment is amongst many of my hypocrisies, but apparently if i went vegan my decrease in hypocrisy would be outweighed by my ostracization as some misguided moral pariah.

    I have always tried to buy milk from small local producers, I believe they care more for their land and animals than corporations.

    I often buy the cheapest cheese in the shop.
    It’s likely imported from NZ sodic soil shenanigans.

    I’m interested in morality and how it applies to human animal interactions. I hope you understand I can do that, and understand I am not taking a moral high ground, merely discussing the morality as i see it

  7. abs

    June 9, 2016 at 8:43 pm

    ruth and spikey, my point is that being comfortable for an animal to be deprived of existence is an ethical decision, as is consuming meat or milk products. to claim the moral high ground that my decision is right is not something that i am naive enough to try an do, yet i am amused by the efforts of some (e.g. vegans) to claim their position is more moral. i am comfortable with my ethics on the matter, and peoples judgements of my actions are not mine to own, they happen not in my mind.

    as for the use of the emotive ‘enslaved’ word, it doesn’t fit how some would like it to. what would ‘wild’ cows do?? roam eating grass? muck like what dairy cows do most of the time. the application of this term could also be applied to most pets. are dogs allowed to roam, or are they contained (in a yard or on a leash) having to follow the commands of their owner.

    i fully agree with your position, Ruth, that we should only consume animal products from animals raised ethically.

    spikey, #17. you state that you eat cheese and drink milk, which demonstrates that you also profit gastronomically from this (so called) enslavement. therefore you also “make that choice for them based on what you see as their best interests”

  8. Simon Warriner

    June 9, 2016 at 8:41 pm


    You will have to wait til my internet resets, currently it would take a week to send Linz a single picture. meanwhile, re read #16, there is heaps of rotting logs in the old watercourse at the bottom of the dam, and the size of these lobsters, it is the platypus that should be worried.

    Speaking of platypus, I had the enjoyment of trying to photgraph one this arvo in a pool left when the floods scrunched up a swamp full of poa aquatica like and old rug. The pool was only about 8m x 4m, but the little sod ducked under the weed mat and all I could see was his tail. Still, good to see him still around as that creek was well and truly scoured out.

  9. Clive Stott

    June 9, 2016 at 6:52 pm

    Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake.
    Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.- Martin Luther King Jr., civil-rights leader, 1929-1968

  10. Clive Stott

    June 9, 2016 at 6:27 pm

    Saw and did that too Lindsay on many memorable occasions in Chasm Creek up above Tioxide weir.

    How lucky to have been taught to appreciate what we had as a kid; so sad much of it has now been ruined.

    #23: I know people that used to go diving in dams on their property at Rocky Cape to show us 9 / 10 pound lobsters.
    9 pound lobsters also lived in Seabrook Creek.

    You know how big these beautiful creatures were? They were huge. I guess they were GFC.

    Most other creeks that I know of in the N/W and N/E had lobsters…rarely see them now though!

    “We had joy we had fun we had seasons in the sun…”

  11. spikey

    June 9, 2016 at 1:23 pm

    #20 mainstream western society is a disgusting representation of humanity.

    I hope Pete can keep his cognic distance from such nefarious influences.

  12. spikey

    June 9, 2016 at 1:20 pm

    #12 wow, i’m quite surprised
    over 30 large GFC living in a silty dam with a happy family of their main predators and i imagine scant access to rotting wood…
    I shall remain somewhat sceptical but totally open to the possibility.
    Please send a pic to the editors for inclusion, I know many people who would be fascinated to learn more about GFC thriving in such numbers in farm dams 🙂

  13. Ruth

    June 9, 2016 at 1:06 pm

    Firstly , to Spikey – yes , indeed it is a form of slavery to be made pregnant every year , have your babies removed from you and as a consequence become physically dependant on having your milk removed by humans ( or machinery).The fact is that cow’s milk is actually a food – for baby cows. The fact is that humans do not need baby cow food to survive .The fact is that we humans have been somehow brainwashed into thinking that we “need” milk .

    If “mainstream western society” deems it ok to perpetuate a lie and enslave animals , then l , too , am very glad to think differently . To “abs” , if dairy cows didn’t exist because they weren’t “useful” to humans , so what ? Do you think they are going to know they don’t exist ? Isn’t non-existence better than a life of slavery ending in slaughter ? ( what do you think happens to dairy cows when they are no longer producing enough milk etc ?) Do you all know where the removed bobby calves end up ? Often as vealer calves .. and do you know this means they are kept indoors in small pens , and deliberately kept anaemic so that their flesh is pale ?

    It is about time that we raise our consciousness in how we treat each other , and this includes animals . If you choose to eat flesh from animals , please at least refuse to eat animals raised cruelly .. As for milk ,l realise the dairy industry is huge , but that doesn’t make it right . Ruth

  14. Pete Godfrey

    June 9, 2016 at 12:23 pm

    #20 Sorry Robin, I prefer to think my own thoughts. Never been a member of mainstream Western society.
    Never will be either.

  15. Robin Charles Halton

    June 9, 2016 at 3:13 am

    #7 Pete you are being totally unrealistic, in fact off the planet, try again and resume as a member of mainstream Western society.

  16. Simon Warriner

    June 9, 2016 at 1:13 am

    re 18, absolutely, the lobsters in my employers dam were Tasmanian freshwater lobsters, the giant species, some as long as my size 11 boot, some might have been bigger, but I was not wading through the mud to check.

    Yes I have seen a number of them, the first one crossing Takone Road, and one I saw in the creek feeding this dam was almost twice as long as my boot.

    And yes, I do have photos.

    It was not my fathers dam, and I was a kid in NZ, where the freshwater crayfish are much, much smaller.

  17. spikey

    June 8, 2016 at 11:03 pm

    #16 sorry, could you confirm the lobsters in your dam were our giant species?

    I’m not asking for an expert ID, you may have seen heaps of them over your life, or none

    Given it was your fathers farm, did you see them around as a kid?

  18. spikey

    June 8, 2016 at 10:37 pm

    whilst I am not a radical anti-dairy individual
    (i do enjoy milk and cheese)
    I am a great champion of freedom.
    I don’t know what cows think

    I’d rather not be a slave
    you appear to make that choice for them
    based on what you see as their best interests

    I wonder how you’d view their best interests
    If not profiting financially or gastronomically from them

    food for thought anyway

  19. Simon Warriner

    June 8, 2016 at 9:43 pm

    re 13, yes Pete, it is about location, and that is entirely the point. The article is about Canterbury which has a particular geology, very porous soils, and a very particular hydrology, and the combination when exposed to intensive dairying is quite clearly problematic.
    I can show you areas of pasture infested by wallabies where the poo load on the adjacent watercourses has to be far higher than that of dairy pasture because there is absolutely nothing to hold the poo in place when it rains. Dung beetles are prolific at burying cow shit. Dairy pastures are grazed to leave substantial residuals which hold the cow shit in place until it is buried. Wallaby shit gets left alone and is free to be washed away. And guess what? There are orders of magnitude more wallabies shitting next to our watercourses and water catchment intakes than there are dairy cows. Yes, your example might need to be fixed, but I really doubt it is typical, or as big a problem as you think.

    And the creek my father drained his cow yard into? That creek grew the most wonderful crop of watercress which kept our family fed on watercress sandwiches for lunch, and together with the eels caught in it, kept the old Maori chap across the road alive for some thirty years I know of. Old Tommy Potu lived on smoked eel, watercress, damper and stout. Toxic stuff, that cow shit! Mind you, Dad did not milk any more than 100 cows, but it was a small creek.

    re 11, I was really surprised by the lobster population, given the amount of silt that flows into that head of the dam and the amount of mud present. There is quite a collection of rotting stumps in the old water course at the bottom of the dam (prime lobster habitat), but the position of experts like Todd Walsh is that silty water is bad for lobsters. If that is correct there should have been no lobsters present at all, because the reason we drained the dam in the first place was to re-position the intake pipe above the silt to clean up the dairy water supply. The lobsters had access to relatively silt free areas but seemed to be moving from the silted areas to that part of the dam as the level dropped. That suggests that they were in the silted regions of their own choice and were relocating to the ever reducing pool of water. The silt problem had been getting worse all season and has clearly been building up since the dam was constructed.

  20. Pete Godfrey

    June 8, 2016 at 7:28 pm

    #9 Simon, another matter that comes to mind is chemicals. If soil had the ability to filter as you suggest why doesn’t it filter chemicals and pesticides as well. I was told once by the overspray unit of DPIPWE that the Duck River was incredibly polluted with ag chemicals. Many of the regular test results showed MCPA in the water, the words of the person who talked to me were that the Duck River was shocking.
    We have had many occurences of agricultural chemicals getting into our rivers, at one time Gunns were ordered not to spray their plantations in the Macquarie River catchment because they were responsible for polluting the river too much. Then the Rubicon had 2-4-D in it, a few times as well. These are only a couple of incidents. A friend of mine also had 20 years of plant breeding destroyed by overspray from a dairy farm next door spraying 2-4-D.
    So maybe there are good farmers but there are also bad ones who do not take enough care too.

  21. abs

    June 8, 2016 at 7:11 pm

    spikey, #8 here’s a dumbed down version of my point. without dairying, dairy cows cease to have a use, therefore if we all ceased consuming dairy products, future ‘enslaved’ cows would instead be denied the right to exist. what do the cows think of this, a life of living in fenced fields, having many babies and having their milk sucked out of them twice a day OR no life at all?

  22. Pete Godfrey

    June 8, 2016 at 5:44 pm

    #9 Simon no doubt your experiences are of where you live and work. I do have my doubts about how much filtering the soil does of bacteria etc.
    In the case I cited here, the farm is right on the river, no riparian zone. It also floods as it did this week over the land.
    Also Western Creek as it flows through farmlands seems to pick up quite a lot of effluent. There are two dairy farms and a piggery near the top end of the creek. Like you say farms have licences, but then so do log truck drivers. That doesn’t stop them terrorising people does it.
    I am glad that your dams are clean enough for wildlife to flourish.

  23. spikey

    June 8, 2016 at 5:36 pm

    #9 and #11

    GFC? really? or Cherax?

    I’d be interested to know

  24. MJF

    June 8, 2016 at 5:28 pm


    Good post, interesting re the GFC collection in the dam and putting organics into perspective.

    Either a good sign for environmental health or species ability to adapt.

    Ironic when lobster habitat was one of the main drivers of the Lapoinya brouhaha

  25. River Wanderer

    June 8, 2016 at 3:39 pm

    Re Lindsay’s comment, I have walked the southern rivers such as the Huon and been somewhat surprised by the lack of birdlife, not to mention a lack of insect life in and around the river.

    It is either a fairly infertile area/river, or there is some other reason for the lack of life.

    Forestry is the only industry up there.

    I would love to hear comments from long-time Huon Valley locals about changes in the river. Perhaps it has always been that way.

  26. Simon Warriner

    June 7, 2016 at 12:37 pm

    Typical activist beatup going on in these comments.

    1 What is happening on the Canterbury Plains is not what is happening in Tasmania. It is an isolated case, and there are definitely problems with the way it has been done.

    2 Irrigating with effluent is efficient use of the water, which has most often been through the cooler and then been used to wash out the dairy. It is not “wasted” it is merely diverted. It goes onto the paddock, and by the time it gets back into the water course it has been filtered through the soil and vegetation. It also reduces and can even eliminate the need for artificial fertilisers.

    3 There are standards for dairying in Tasmania, you cannot run a dairy without a license, there are annual inspections and yes, effluent management is part of that process.

    4 If the root cause of the overall problem is to be addressed, that needs to start with a global population policy. Less mouths equals less need for intensive agriculture and less drive to large scale production. Not to say small scale production was any cleaner. I’ll bet that quaint little dairy Linz grew up on ran its cowshit straight down a drain that eventually got into a creek. I know the one I grew up on did, and so did the original dairies on the farm I now work on.

    5 Interestingly, I work on a conventional dairy, right next door to an organic dairy. Our effluent management is better, ours goes onto the paddocks, not into the dam from which the washdown and stock water is drawn. Our cows are in better condition, we have a lower cell count, our calves do better, we grow less ragwort and a hell of a lot more grass, and my bosses business model seem to be a lot more robust. On the other hand my bosses do not spend time telling the world how great a job they are doing of looking after the environment, they just get on with it. And when we dropped the irrigation dam to fix the intake we found over 30 large lobsters in the bottom of it. Along with a family of very friendly platypus.

    I guess they are valid indicators of environmental health?

  27. spikey

    June 7, 2016 at 12:18 pm

    #2 #4
    Yes thats right.
    Does the fact that only unpalatable options exist for ex-slaves justify continuation of slavery… especially in the light of land and water use and degradation.

    The argument reminds me somewhat of that used by glyphosate apologists.
    ‘the alternative’s worse’

    Is it? Or is it just blinkered viewing

  28. Pete Godfrey

    June 7, 2016 at 12:14 pm

    Frank again, abs and Robin Halton, in regards to freeing dairy cattle.
    If dairy foods were not consumed by humans then there would be no need to breed dairy cows. As Frank says they would not be born.
    Who would want to be born into a life where they are kept on small paddocks, fed the same type of grass every day. Every so called weed that came up that may be a bit of variety in the diet is sprayed with poison, and you get to live with permanent diahorea because your diet is totally wrong.
    If you had offspring they would either be put into the same life of subservience you are or sent to be killed and eaten.
    I thought we were trying to end human slavery on the planet, and it was time that we do the same with animals.
    Dairy foods are not designed for humans, just go out and look at those who drink a lot of milk and you will see it.
    Cows milk is designed to make small calf’s into great big animals. Not to make small humans into great big animals.
    I have empathy for the cows when I see them enslaved.

  29. John Bignell

    June 7, 2016 at 3:52 am

    You might be right Bill, so let’s have a few basic numbers – eg analysis of Christchurch water, lowering water table etc.

    By the way, I doubt if there is a single dairy to be seen in the attatched Google Earth image. All the different shades of green and paddock shapes within each “circle” suggest traditional N.Z. mixed farming.

  30. Robin Charles Halton

    June 7, 2016 at 2:30 am

    Again, riparian reserves of preferable native species alongside stream would effectively filter much of the contaminated wash of dairy effluent from entering streams.

    About time environmental law about water and soil quality was brought about to reduce the decline in naturally active stream biology.

    #1 Pete, dairying is an essential agricultural pursuit to provide quality food products for our everyday needs.
    A Code of Practice for dairying is required, governments should act now in the same way we need practical solutions to save the Barrier Reef from progressive destruction by overflows of agricultural runoff from major rivers in Qld

  31. abs

    June 7, 2016 at 1:05 am

    freed, Pete?? where will they end up?? when a domestic/agricultural animal loses its purpose, it become either a pet or a pest

  32. Frank again

    June 7, 2016 at 12:16 am

    Considering the above information and come to realise that real change is needed again, here the alternative outlook from Kiwiland:


    High Value Dairy …
    A decade ago the viticulture industry responded to international market demand by creating a sustainable NZ wine brand. This industry committed to changing grower practices and moving up the value chain by producing premium products with robust environmental credentials – thereby leveraging their pure advantage.

    The conventional dairy sector in New Zealand has continued to focus on high production for the high volume, low- value commodities market. Figures quoted in Waikato Times (Feb 9th 2016) told the story- organic milk powder sells on the international market for more than $14,000 per tonne and in stark contrast conventional milk powder sells for $2,900 per tonne. The international market is demanding high value sustainably produced food and the business case for a market led approach in the dairy sector is urgent.

    The intensification of dairying relies on high chemical input strategies contributing to a number of factors that reduce on-farm profit including animal health issues such as; high empty rates, retained membranes, laminitis, high Somatic Cell Count(SCC) and mastitis. The resulting bills to mitigate these health problems carve deeply into economic farm surplus (EFS). Ironically most animal health problems are a direct result of nutritional deficiency and when animals graze on high chemical input pastures the root cause of these nutritional problems comes from soil that is simply not functioning.

    Production over profit is economically unsustainable, particularly in the current low payout period, but high chemical inputs are also environmentally unsustainable. The clamor around environmental issues, such as clean water, will result in tighter on-farm regulatory rules becoming the norm. The biggest single factor to reduce chemical run-off into waterways is healthy functioning soil. Over 60% of NZ rivers are unfit for swimming, let alone drinking. Most of the effort to date has been focused on mitigating the impacts of high input farming on water quality (riparian buffers etc) while information on the effects of changing farm practice to prevent the pollution in the first place is lacking

  33. Frank again

    June 7, 2016 at 12:06 am

    Re#1: … “That way the cows could be freed from what can only be viewed as slavery.”
    In other words: They would never be born I suppose.

  34. Pete Godfrey

    June 6, 2016 at 10:11 pm

    The story is very similar here, like Linz points out. Here some dairy farmers put their effluent from the dairy washouts through their irrigators. One near Deloraine is situated on the river, they irrigate their paddocks with effluent and are only a kilometre or less above the town water supply uptake pipe.

    So the good people of Deloraine are getting a good dose of effluent directly into their drinking water.

    Then of course there is the water usage issue.

    It would be far more efficient to just do away with the cows and sell the water. Water costs more in the shops than milk anyway. That way the cows could be freed from what can only be viewed as slavery.

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