Northland dairy farmers Richard and Bev Dampney, farming at Otaua, west of Kaikohe, must urgently complete 10 to 11km of riparian fencing to continue supplying milk to Fonterra.

Within only a few farms nationwide still to comply, the Dampneys had argued riparian fencing was impractical on local rivers that flooded an average of six times a year.

Furthermore, cows had reticulated water in troughs and were effectively excluded from the water courses by steep, overgrown banks.

Hot tapes were used to break feed, and where cows might venture down to the waterways.

Richard Dampney said the Northland Regional Council acknowledged that impracticability by basing its new regional plan on effective livestock exclusion, not prescriptive waterway fencing.

That meant Fonterra was imposing a higher standard than the local authority, he said.

The confluence of four meandering rivers, and about 12km of banks on two dairy farms, makes the Dampney’s Ngamaia Rua Lands location in the Hokianga Harbour flood plain a challenging environment.

Banks were historically planted with willows, which had now fallen and spread, playing host to other problems like tobacco weed and gorse.

The Dampneys’ neighbours are mainly beef cattle farms and lifestyle blocks, which are not required to fence waterways or try to eradicate the profusion of woody weeds.

The inaugural Fonterra Sustainability Report published in December said collection of milk was suspended from 78 farms last season because of the non-completion of fencing to exclude livestock from waterways.

The report said 98.4% of all permanent waterways on Fonterra supply farms had been fenced at the end of May 2017. The Sustainable Dairying: Water Accord (SDWA) target was 100%.

Bridges or culverts had been installed for 99.8% of all waterway crossings.

It would have riparian management documents in place for all farms by the end of the 2019-20 season, although only 4% had them currently.

During 2016-17, 9821 supply farms were checked by independent assessors and 318 (3.2%) were referred to Fonterra’s own sustainable dairying advisers (SDAs) because of major or critical hazards.

These were where actual environmental damage was occurring or there was a significant risk of that happening.

The three most common faults were ponding and run-off from effluent irrigation, improper cleaning of sand traps, and effluent not being captured properly in to the management system.

SDAs worked with the farmers to develop action plans with target dates for completion.

Fonterra said during 2018 it would finalise the collaborative action plans for 50 catchments throughout the country, deliver 1000 farm environment plans (FEPs), and introduce pilot climate action plans on 100 farms.

By 2025 it would ensure all supply farms had FEPs and by 2030 all growth in dairy farming would be climate-neutral and Fonterra’s manufacturing operations would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30%.

FEPs would help farmers implement water quality limits now being drafted by regional councils.

Nutrient budgets now covered 95% of supply farms, and were used to generate estimates of farm nitrogen losses and efficiency, nitrous oxide emissions and farm performance in relation to other local farmers.

Water meters had been installed on 51% of significant water intakes, against a target of 85% by 2020.

A Fonterra spokesman said the Dampneys were among a few farmers nationwide who had applied for dispensations from the fencing requirements because of special circumstances.

Fonterra SDAs had worked with those farmers to achieve the requirements of the SDWA but that extension of time had now expired.

Dampney said he would erect one-wire power fences and have to repeatedly repair them after floods, at considerable initial and ongoing expense for no practical benefit.