Can Australia Learn from the The Real Cost Of New Zealand's Dairy Boom?


Photo: Fonterra NZ Dairy Farm

Australia has recently signed the free-trade agreement with China. What has this got to do with living a healthy life??

For me, health extends also to the health of our environment and I am also interested in the cruelty-free aspect to the animals that will be effected with the FTA, since the dairy industry looks to be one of main industry's to benefit. Dairy is the third largest agricultural industry in Australia, with a national dairy herd around 2 million cows and is worth $2.4 billion in exports.

Since the FTA, the industry claims to be ready to increase dairy production by more than 50%.

We can have some idea of the impact to come by looking to New Zealand, who has had the FTA in place since 2008. The dairy industry boomed, accounting for NZD$5 billion in 2014, the largest amount of export dollars. (It has experienced a dramatic decrease in pricing in the last year, due to competition from "Mega Dairies" in the USA that don't experience seasonal fluctuations, causing an economic issue but that is not what I am focused on here.)

NZ now produces over 20 billion litres of milk, rising from 9 since their free-trade agreement and exports 95% of it.

That is a lot of milk and a lot of money. Great.

But what are the hidden costs?

The price they pay is effluent equivalent to 150 million people a year and each one of New Zealand's nine million dairy cows produces 189 pounds of methane gas per year- which we know is a detrimental green house gas.

The mass conversion of land to dairy farming has also been heavily linked to deterioration of New Zealand's previously pristine water quality because of the harmful run-off of excess nutrients specifically phosphorus and nitrate. The effluent has dirtied and discoloured waterways, choking lakes and rivers with algae blooms and soaking through to contaminate ground water.

Just as a small example, the Fonterra Pahiatua dairy plant currently discharges up to 2,664 cubic meters of wastewater into the Mangatainoka River daily and has the consent to use more groundwater in the Mangatainoka catchment, which it says is needed for cooling and washing the factory.


Photo: Pollution in NZ river. 

So while NZ made money from the intensive high growth dairy industry, there has also been a total cost to repair environmental damage from it, estimated at 15 billion. The New Zealand Dairy Farming: Milking Our Environment for All its Worth government paper focused on four issues:

  • removing nitrates from drinking water (potential cost of repair $10.7bn);
  • soil compaction ($611 million);
  • greenhouse gas emissions ($3.1bn) and
  • clean, green image ($569m).

The below video is a very light, perhaps bias but still interesting, look into the dairy industry in NZ

NZ have been making a big effort to back peddle and fix the major pollution issues that have been created from the high spike in  dairy cows. They have been taking legal action against "dirty dairying" with at least 151 prosecutions involving 300 charges made for unlawful discharges of dairy effluent from 08-12. They have also started making fences mandatory to stop the cows from physically going in the water ways but evidence of water pollution suggests that this good work hasn’t been enough to offset the damage done by the dairy boom.

This problem does not occur from farming a few dairy cows sustainably. This is really a problem that has arisen from a high jump in numbers which Australia is now about to replicate. ( to add to the other 30 million "beef" cattle we also have living on the land.)

No matter which way you look at it,

Increased more condensed number of dairy cows = more methane + more effluent = increased damage to our environment. 


The purpose of this blog is not to depress my readers, nor myself when I am writing about issues! SO... to find the positive steps we can take.

1. Eat no or less dairy and only from smaller, organic farms.

2. Since the increase in dairy farms will not care about you, as their products are to be exported to China, we can write emails to our local council members and National Government, stressing the importance of the environment to you as a voter and your concern the increase dairy cows will have on it.

3. Stay updated. We certainly want to make sure Mega Dairies do not hit Australia's shores with the new China dairy boom, as they cause EVEN GREATER havoc on the animals and the earth. Be prepared to kick and scream. The UK did and stopped them!

4. Support government parties that have an interest in protecting the environment.

5. Pray.

"The impact of this on-going and increasing stress will generally be worsening water quality - more blooms of algae and cyanobacteria, more streams trailing metres of brown slime, fewer stream insects and fish, and more wells and waterways exceeding nitrate toxicity limits." NZ Comissioner for the Envornement Jan Wright



Milk anyone?