13 Aug 2019

Winter grazing: 'We've had farmers intimidate us' - activists

7:33 pm on 13 August 2019

Allegations of intimidation are emerging during a winter grazing stoush in Southland.

Cows stand in mud after winter grazing.

Cows stand in mud after winter grazing. Photo: Geoff Reid

Winter grazing is when livestock are kept in small sections of pasture until they completely finish off the crop.

At times, the animals are left wallowing in mud and in cramped conditions.

Environmental activist Geoff Reid wants winter grazing to end, saying nutrient and effluent runoff into waterways were only part of the problem with winter grazing.

"You don't have drive far in Southland to see cows in mud and cows drinking their own effluent. It really is horrifying," Mr Reid said.

Cows could become stuck in the quagmire, causing damage to their hooves and health, he said.

He and another activist went to take photos of winter grazing conditions near Mossburn over the weekend.

"We've had a rock thrown through the window, we've had our road blocked and our property blocked. We've had farmers intimidate us," he said.

Despite these allegations, Mr Reid said the campaign was not to target farmers, but the system that required such intensive practices.

Southland dairy farmer Allan Baird said there was no intention to intimidate any environmentalists.

Geoff Reid says vehicles were used to blockade the activists.

Geoff Reid says vehicles were used to blockade the activists. Photo: Geoff Reid

On Sunday afternoon, Mr Baird and up to 15 other farmers set up a BBQ in a paddock near to where the environmentalists were. He said it was to keep an eye on what they were doing near their properties, not to intimidate them.

"By no means was there any intimidation or attempt to intimidate them. They stayed in the nursery and we happily talked amongst ourselves."

Police said there had been reports of people photographing stock and a report of a rock thrown at a vehicle window in Mossburn over the weekend, but no charges have been laid.

Southland Regional Council chair Nichol Horrell flew over part of the region last week to see winter grazing practices from the air.

"We were quite disappointed that we're not seeing a great uptake of some of the best practice for how you actually graze the stock, and some good practice too, just the scale of winter grazing in places is causing a few issues," Mr Horrell said.

Some are concerned that when too many animals are kept together in a small space in bad weather, heavy rain can cause runoff to flow across paddocks and enter waterways.

Mr Horrell wanted to see an end to the adversarial commentary from both sides, saying collaboration was the best step forward as there was no one-size fits all solution.

"It'll take time to transition people out of that, but winter grazing per se is not that bad. If it's done properly, it's actually quite effective," Mr Horrell said.

"To have no winter grazing would mean a huge drop in stock numbers, you'd probably bankrupt half the farmers in Southland and destroy the economy. I don't think anyone wants that either so we just need to work on innovative solutions."

The council's proposed water and land plan would set a strict standard for dairy intensification and intensive winter grazing, but it was in front of the Environment Court, he said.

Less than 15 percent of Mr Baird's property is dedicated to winter grazing, and he said there could be run off, but it was the best option for now.

"We step away from a good practice to other practices that we would quite quickly find fault with and particularly now where farmers are under pressure to lower their methane emissions, without lowering stock numbers shifting stock indoors is only going to lift our methane emissions," Mr Baird said.

The recent scrutiny on winter grazing would encourage more farmers to check they were using best practice, he said.

Last week Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor announced a new taskforce will be set up to identify winter grazing issues and potential solutions.

Southland Regional Council is organising to meet industry groups and discuss how winter grazing can be improved using a unified approach.