Industrial dairying is failing. It’s failing people who want to swim in clean rivers, its failing our tourism industry, it’s failing our climate, and it’s failing farmers.

A Landcorp dairy farm 2008

The high input industrial dairying model requires more water, chemical fertiliser and supplementary feed to produce tonnes of low value milk powder from ever-growing herds of cows.

This increases our climate emissions, degrades our land and pollutes our rivers, two thirds of which are already at times, too polluted to swim in safely. (1)

It also puts farmers into huge amounts of debt and in some cases bankruptcy. New Zealand dairy farmers are collectively burdened with a staggering $38 billion worth of debt. When the price of milk is low the pressure then mounts on many farmers and their families.

As New Zealand dairy farming has become industrialised, small, family-owned farms are being snapped up, incorporated into industrial-scale dairying operations.

This seventh generation dairy farmer in the Wairarapa has already been forced off his farm by Rabobank after being convinced to borrow heavily to intensify his dairy farm through investing in an uneconomic irrigation scheme.

And it’s about to get a whole lot worse. Right now, huge, costly new irrigation schemes are planned throughout the country.

Commissioning work has started on the canal intake

Irrigation schemes that suck huge amounts of water from our rivers and aquifers and use it to put more and more dairy cows onto the land, creating more pollution, and farmer debt.

It’s a double whammy for the rivers. Water is taken from them, and returned polluted.

The Makaroro River in the Hawkes Bay for example, which may no longer flow from the Ruahine Ranges into the Waipawa, as it should, but be enclosed behind an 83m high concrete wall, known as the Ruataniwha Dam.

Instead of receiving fresh water from the Makaroro the Waipawa River will then receive massive amounts of pollution from industrialised dairying.

Several farmers in this area don’t want to have to go into more debt to buy water from the dam. But, they are being put under pressure from the banks who are knocking on their doors offering to them lend them money.

Further south, stunning braided Rakaia and Waimakariri rivers in Canterbury, that make their way down from the Southern Alps to feed into the Pacific Ocean are also threatened.

There are plans to triple the size of Central Plains Water. An irrigation scheme set to continuously suck tens of thousands of litres of water from these two rivers, pump it into canals and use it put wall to wall dairy cows on the Canterbury Plains.

One of the rivers that will be polluted by this scheme is the Selwyn river, where I used to swim as a kid. That river is already so polluted that at the end of last year the council issued a health warning and you couldn’t swim in it without running the risk of becoming seriously ill.

And who is funding all of this? You are.

The Government is poised to pour nearly half a billion dollars of taxpayers’ money into these dirty great polluting multi-million dollar schemes. On top of that local councils are pouring in millions of ratepayer dollars too.

If the Government gets their way, by 2025 one million hectares of our land will be under irrigation, that’s the equivalent to sixteen Lake Taupo’s. That’s going to mean a whole lot more pollution heading straight to our rivers, and a whole lot more farmer debt.

Farming is part of who we are as a nation, but the face of farming as we know it is changing. We cannot let it continue to become more industrialised at the cost of our rivers, our land, our farms, and our climate.

Clean, green farming is much better for our rivers, our farmers and our international reputation.

Clean green farming is about less input, and better output.

It’s about cutting down on water use, chemicals and supplementary feed and cutting back on herd numbers to look after soil so that pasture thrives and lasts. It’s about creating high value food products that are truly clean and green, not cheap commoditised milk powder.

To protect our rivers, our clean green reputation and create sustainable livelihoods for farmers and their families, we urgently need to say no to industrial scale irrigation schemes, propped up by our Government.

TAKE ACTION: Sign the petition to stop Government funded river pollution



NIWA, ‘Draft Regulatory Impact Statement: Proposed Amendments to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management’, prepared by MfE and MPI, Wellington, 2011.