Small herd dairy farmers will 'rot'

Last updated 10:01 02/07/2013
Rick Pridmore
DairyNZ’s strategy and investment leader for sustainability, Rick Pridmore.

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Small herd dairy farmers will ‘‘rot from the bottom’’ because of poor planning from regional councils around the country, a senior advisor for DairyNZ says.

This is because of the high mitigation costs farmers faced caused by the increase in nitrogen (N) from recent dairy conversions.

Poor planning from councils allowed these farms in certain areas of the country to be converted to dairying, DairyNZ’s strategy and investment leader for sustainability Rick Pridmore told farmers at the Smaller Milk and Supply Herds conference in Karapiro last week.

‘‘Every regional council is calling us dirty and horrible, but it’s poor planning. That’s what’s causing this problem. We are not controlling the conversion of land.’’

In some catchments there were too many dairy farms, but there was still room for dairying to grow in other areas, Pridmore said.

‘‘I’m still telling Fonterra that we should be able to grow at 3 per cent a year at least.’’

The resulting mitigation costs from councils and government would eventually make small herd farming unprofitable.

Every time a forestry block converted to dairying, 30kg per hectare per year of N was leached into soils through cattle urine.

This occurred in spite of best farming practises being used.

This was why there is a buildup of N in rivers in the Waikato.

If 1000ha of forestry land converted to dairying and this new farm focused on having the lowest N footprint possible, then 6000ha of surrounding dairy farm land would have to cut their N output considerably to compensate for that new conversion.

‘‘That’s how easy it is to rot from the bottom,’’ Pridmore said.

The existing farmers pay for these new conversions through tighter N mitigation requirements.

‘‘That’s what’s happening in the Waikato.’’

Farmers had to ensure they received the best possible production return from their N output.

Pridmore said he knew of one catchment where 70 per cent of the milk being made came from farmers using 30 per cent of the N.

‘‘You turn that around: Thirty per cent of the milk is made by people using 70 per cent of the N. That’s horrible.’’

If all of the industry operated like those farms it would be in a huge mess.

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Pridmore said emotionally-driven decisions on the environment was the industry’s biggest threat. The best way to avoid these was to build tolerance and acceptance of what dairy farmers do.

‘‘We build acceptance by showing that we are trustworthy and responsible.’’

If farmers say they would fence off streams, then they have to follow up that talk with action.

Failing to do so would be like a red rag to a bull. The public would become angry and it would lead to tighter regulations, he said.

The industry had to do more than the bare minimum to enhance its reputation and be transparent.

When a dairy farmer did something bad such as serious non-compliance, the industry should acknowledge it.

‘‘If we don’t do that, we can be perfect on our farms but still not loved by the public. We have to build acceptance and tolerance if we are to go forward.’’

- Fairfax Media

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