Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Court told farmer refused to feed starving stock
For Nelson Mail/Fairfax Media
A court has been told of council officers seeing dead and malnourished stock at a dairy farm near Murchison, and a farmer who allegedly refused to buy feed for them.
Dairy farmer Phillip Woolley is denying charges brought by Tasman District Council at the Nelson District Court, relating to effluent at his Matakitaki farm.
Yesterday was the first day of the trial, presided over by Judge Jeff Smith.
Woolley, from Tuamarina in Marlborough, farm manager Hendrik Jordaan and Awarua Farm are charged with multiple breaches of the Tasman Resource Management Plan (TRMP) and the Resource Management Act which allegedly saw ponding of effluent in breach of the TRMP, stored effluent solids on unsealed ground, also in breach of the TRMP, and grazing a herd in a manner that may have resulted in the discharge of effluent and sediment into a nearby watercourse.
The charges date back to November 2012.
Jordaan indicated through his counsel, Tony Bamford, that he would plead guilty to the charges and file for discharge without conviction.
Lawyer David Clark appeared for Awarua Farm and Woolley.
There were a total of 16 charges against the three defendants; 12 of those were against Woolley and the farm.
The TDC, represented by lawyer Antoinette Besier, said the farmer had long history of enforcement orders dating back to the council's first inspection in 2004.
The Environment Court had issued enforcement orders in 2006 with respect to the management of dairy farm effluent.
The prosecution's first witness, TDC compliance officer Kathryn Bunting, described the farm as "very large", developed over two old river terraces, with 880 cows. It had streams running through it, and it was estimated to be worth $9.5 million, with Woolley owning 99 per cent of the shares and his wife Suzanne the other 1 per cent.
Bunting said the farm's effluent discharge had to comply with the TRMP. Effluent had to be sealed to stop it contaminating water sources and it could not be pooled on a surface for more than an hour.
On November 1 2012 she saw "a number of compliance issues", with the storage of effluent in an unsealed area, pooling of it on a paddock and effluent being discharged into an unnamed stream as a result of intensive grazing.
She had also seen "many malnourished animals" while on the farm.
"It did stand out how much dead stock there was on the farm at that time."
She said she spoke with a farmhand, who did not know about previous enforcement orders.
She saw farm workers trying to free stock caught in mud near the unnamed stream.
Former farm manager Hendrik Jordaan, who had worked at the farm from June 2012 to May 2013, was called as a prosecution witness. He described his time there as "stressful" and said Woolley did not give him any independence in funding for maintenance of the farm, even small items. Woolley was not often at the farm, and they communicated by phone and email.
He said he was concerned the cows did not have enough to eat. He asked Woolley for supplementary food for them on a number of occasions. He said Woolley was not interested in the the condition of his cows.
He said he decided to graze the "most under-fed and poorest condition" stock next to the stream for a day.
He said they were "desperate for feed".
"The feed was so scarce through the rest of the farm, Phil had not supplied feed for the cows."
He had told a farmhand to move the cows after one day of grazing near the unnamed stream but this was not done, and the TDC visited while Jordaan was on leave. The TDC saw two of the cows stuck in the mud, and sediments and effluent had gone into the stream.
Jordaan had suggested changes to the farm, but said Woolley did not act on them.
"Phil was well aware of issues of effluent ponding, but never did anything about it."
He wanted to buy concrete to ensure effluent was stored properly, but said Woolley would not give him permission.
He said he was in an "impossible position" at the farm as he did not have control over anything.
A former farm employee, Khyle Brookland, also described food shortages on the farm, and Woolley refusing to fix problems. He said Woolley told him to starve the stock.
The court also heard from TDC scientist Trevor James, who looked at the water quality in rivers and streams in the area, both up and downstream from the farm.
James said the TDC looked at water quality at several sites in the area, on an ongoing basis. Concentrations of the E coli bacteria (which came from animals) were higher after rain in the Matakitaki river. Levels were higher downstream than sample spots upstream from the farm.
He said the unnamed stream on the farm was an "unhealthy waterway system".
He said during rain contaminants ran off the farm and into the unnamed stream, which fed into the Matakitaki river. There was a risk to humans who used the river downstream from the farm as they could get ill from bacteria.
The hearing is to continue, with defence witnesses expected to be called today.
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