Case study - Farm dairy effluent

There are approximately 950 dairy farms in Northland creating more than 14 thousand cubic metres of farm dairy effluent (FDE) from dairies and feed pads every day.

This effluent can be applied to land, or can be treated to remove contaminants and then discharged to water. It is illegal to discharge untreated FDE to water or onto or into land in any way that may contaminate water.

The Regional Water and Soil Plan (RWSP) for Northland has rules that control the disposal of FDE. The disposal of FDE to land, subject to conditions, is a ‘permitted' activity and farms that use this method are termed ‘non-consented' farms. There are approximately 250 non-consented farms in Northland.

The disposal of treated FDE to water is a ‘discretionary' activity, which means that it requires resource consent. Farms which operate under resource consent are called ‘consented' farms. There are approximately 700 consented dairy farms in Northland. Many of these routinely apply effluent to land and only discharge to water in very wet periods.

The discharge of treated animal effluent to certain important water bodies in Northland is not allowed. These water bodies are listed in the RWSP. For a copy of the RWSP go to

Performance targets

To monitor and enforce compliance with farm dairy effluent discharge standards by:

· Inspecting all FDE treatment and discharge systems at least annually, recording inspection details and reporting these to the farmers who are responsible – ACHIEVED

· Testing effluent and receiving water quality annually, for systems with resource consents to discharge to water – ACHIEVED

· Following up on all non-complying systems, systems that have had poor grades, or those requiring maintenance or upgrading, when needed – ACHIEVED

Key points 2009-2010

· 249 farms were applying FDE to land under the permitted activity rule; 38% were fully compliant with the conditions of the rule; 32% had minor non-compliance and 30% were significantly non-compliant;

· 697 farms were disposing of FDE under resource consent; 45% were fully compliant with the conditions of their consent; 33% had minor non-compliance and 22% were significantly non-compliant;

· 201 abatement notices and 173 infringement notices were issued; and

· 3 prosecutions were taken.

Compliance trends

Compliance rates for the last seven years show a general decrease in the rate of significant non-compliance. 

Graph - FDE compliance statistics.