Landcorp bows to pressure to halt dairy conversions
Environmental and financial pressures have forced Landcorp and Wairakei Estates owners to abandon contentious forest to dairy conversions.
The amount of capital invested in the project is expected to be approximately $25-35 million lower than originally planned, Landcorp said.
Recently New Zealand's largest farmer forecast an $8-9m loss for the 2015-16 year, largely because of lower dairy prices.
Freshwater ecologist Dr Mike Joy welcomed the move as a significant win for the environment.
"As a member of Landcorp's environmental reference group, I've challenged Landcorp on its dairy programme at Wairakei. It is pleasing to see them proactively changing tack on the development to significantly reduce its environmental footprint," Joy said.
Wairakei Estate near Taupo currently comprises 13 dairy farms with 17,000 cows over 6400 hectares.
It had been planned to run 43,000 cows on 39 farms by 2021 but Landcorp chief executive Steven Carden said in a statement this would be scaled back, without saying exactly how many cows the property would carry.
He later told Fairfax Media there had been a long held view that something needed to be done about the conversions.
"What we were struggling with was getting the right combination of people around the table to nut out how to solve the problem," Carden said.
He said the decision would not entail job losses. While there had been plans to employ more people with the extra farms, these would no longer be required.
"We're also developing labour-intensive new businesses like the sheep operation which will offset many of those anticipated non-jobs."
He said Landcorp's scientific modelling, "done in conjunction with external environmental and farm systems experts", indicated the new land-use programme and smaller dairy footprint will result in a significant reduction in the level of nitrogen leached.
Last year Carden said the contracts that Landcorp had signed with Wairakei Estates in 2004 had been to convert the area to a "pastoral use, and that could include cropping, forestry, sheep milk, bull beef, or horticulture".
Ross Green, one of the owners of the estate, welcomed Landcorp's new plans for Wairakei Estate.
"From the outset, Wairakei Pasture has wanted the estate to be a showcase for environmental protection, economic development and future-focused farming. This proposed land use has our support and we look forward to continuing to work with Landcorp to ensure the development is an exceptional exemplar for the agricultural industry," Green said.
The decision follows a meeting with the environmental reference group last week.
The group consists of Carden and other Landcorp staff, Guy Salmon, Dr Alison Dewes, Mike Joy, Dr Tanira Kingi, Dave Maslen and Angus Robson.
The Green Party presented a petition to Parliament last year with more than 8000 signatures calling on Landcorp to abandon its plans to convert the land.
"We congratulate Landcorp for listening, and the next step is for the Government to listen to those who want our rivers protected. Stop pushing for more cows over the environment, and commit to swimmable rivers, rather than merely water that you can dip your toe in," Green MP Catherine Delahunty said.
Carden said Landcorp's strategy was to sell to wealthy consumers using its new Pamu brand. The new direction included developing new products such as sheep milk.
A new land-use model that Landcorp had developed indicated its programme and smaller dairy footprint would result in a significant reduction in the level of nitrogen leached.
Carden said dairy support operations such as rearing young stock and winter grazing would be self-sufficient and be run largely within the confines of the estate rather than at other farms.
Landcorp plans to invest in covered stand-off areas on the estate to aid the wintering of cows to protect animals and pasture and ensure the option of delivering year-round milk for its customers.
"This will also protect against over-grazing in the summer, improve the survivability of pastures, provide shade for cows and ensure we can capture more nutrients at key times of the year and stop it leaching into the waterways," Carden said.
Federated Farmers said it was pleased to see Landcorp taking a proactive approach to reducing nutrient pressure in the Waikato catchment and reducing the amount of water it used.