The use of helicopters to monitor farm effluent issues by Waikato Regional Council may stop.
The council has used helicopter flights in the past to randomly monitor farms to see if they are compliant with effluent management rules.
A recommendation to halt the process was made last Thursday to full council by a majority of the environmental performance committee after it heard from farmer representatives that the flights can contribute to farmer stress.
Council said the flights have been an efficient way to cover farms and identify those where on-ground follow-up inspections may be necessary to see if run-off into waterways may be occurring.
Recently a more targeted approach has been taken, with flights over areas where effluent getting into waterways may be a particular problem and subsequent educational visits to all farms in those areas to look at effluent management issues. There were six such flights last year.
Federated Farmers Waikato president Chris Lewis, who said helicopter monitoring could be stressful for farmers, noted at the meeting that there had been a positive response to this new approach, which he supported along with the targetted helicopter monitoring.
But he also pointed to the significant stress levels on farms and recently reported national farmer suicide statistics. He felt it was good to remove sources of stress where possible.
Lisa Lile from the Dairy Womens Network also spoke of how helicopter monitoring could contribute to farmer stress levels.
Cr Theresa Stark, a farmer who is not a member of the committee, supported ending helicopter flights due to the ‘fear’ they generated. This fear was not conducive to the council’s educational approach, she said.
After hearing the comments, committee chair Clyde Graf moved a motion that using helicopters cease pending further investigation of the council’s regulatory processes.
The motion was supported by councillors Graf, Bramley and White and opposed by councillors Kneebone and Livingston, while Cr Southgate abstained.
No helicopter monitoring flights were planned till next month. A total of four had currently been planned for the rest of the year.
The recommendation will be considered by the full council at its next meeting later this month.