Dairy and irrigation leaders have hit back at claims by Greenpeace that they are planning on pushing cow numbers to record levels.
DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle said the accusation by Greenpeace campaigner, Genevieve Toop that DairyNZ was making a “cynical attempt” to distract New Zealanders from this growth via large scale irrigation schemes was rubbish.
“The claims are so ridiculous that we don’t want to comment.”
The increase in cow numbers would come from irrigation schemes planned in Canterbury, Otago, Wairarapa, Northland and Hawkes Bay, Toop said.
“What industrial dairy lobbyists don’t want the public to focus on is that they are planning a big increase in the number of dairy cows, already at six and a half million, which will cause more pollution in our lakes and rivers.
“If these irrigation schemes go ahead there will be tens of thousands more dairy cows which will spell disaster for our lakes and rivers.”
DairyNZ spokeswoman Maggie Kerrigan said Greenpeace was putting forward opinion as fact and challenged the organisation to come forward with evidence that DairyNZ was actively pushing for greater cow numbers in New Zealand.
“Can they show us where they got that information? It bears little or no fact.”
Greenpeace had used outdated dairy cow statistics. The New Zealand Dairy Statistics 2015-16 report, which is published every December by DairyNZ and LIC, showed dairy cow numbers totalled 4,997,811, she said.
Even if the proposed irrigation schemes went ahead, it would not automatically mean an increase in dairy cows, Irrigation New Zealand chief executive Andrew Curtis said.
“There are no irrigation schemes going in that are just for dairy. We are not going to shy away from the fact that there is dairy going in on them, but for the majority of the new schemes going in, dairy is only making up 20-30 per cent maximum.”
There was also a resurgence among sheep and beef and cropping farmers in Canterbury who were looking at irrigation.
Greenpeace had ignored the changes irrigating dairy farmers had made around precision irrigation.
“It’s huge what farmers are having to do and they have to be accountable for what they are doing. It’s disappointing [Greenpeace] are not recognising some of these things that are now happening.”
Any new irrigation scheme would be subject to tight regulatory controls from its regional council, making it difficult for land users to intensify or convert outright to dairying, he said.
“In Canterbury and in other areas they have all got nutrient limits and schemes have to manage within those nutrient limits.”
Many farmers had reduced their intensification following the fall in the milk price as they tried to reduce their costs. They were keeping with this less intensive system because it was more resilient, Curtis said.
The latest accusation comes after the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) rejected a complaint by DairyNZ that an ad produced by Greenpeace was misleading. Dairy NZ is now planning to appeal the decision.
Toop said DairyNZ was continuing to deny that more dairying would mean more river pollution.
DairyNZ’s statement on the ASA ruling which pointed out its mitigation programmes of fencing rivers and planting trees missed the point, she said.
“While fencing and planting work is applaudable, too many cows on overstocked farms creates nitrate pollution from cow urine which seeps through the soil into groundwater and then into waterways where it can cause algal growth.
“If we are going to save our rivers and lakes we need to ditch plans for irrigation schemes, decrease cow numbers and transition to ecological farming, without delay.”
By: Rural Reporters