Farmers discuss good dairying outcomes

IN CONTROL: Mark Saunders with teaching tools, a step by step manual and a pond level indicator.
IN CONTROL: Mark Saunders with teaching tools, a step by step manual and a pond level indicator.

Smart effluent management is a "no-brainer" and is at the forefront of farming, says dairy farmer Mark Saunders.

He was among 40 farmers who attended a DairyNZ-funded forum in Wellington in December which focused on the challenges ahead for the industry.

The farmers are looking for good outcomes for dairying for all New Zealanders.

Mr Saunders believes dairy farmers need to act together to control soil moisture and nitrate levels to cope with increased environmental regulations.

"Collectively, if we don't have good outcomes with soil drainage and nitrate levels, potentially we have a sinking ship."

Responsibility for this should be shared, and he said, "If anyone driving along a country road sees something related to dairying we don't like the look of, we should talk to the supplier's sustainability representative about it."

Mr Saunders and wife Pennie milk 1600 cows in an equity partnership on Waioto, their property at Westerfield, Mid-Canterbury.

The couple are conscious their farming has an impact on acquifers and on the resources in their area and want to reduce their environmental footprint.

Mr Saunders considers his role is to be an example for his seven staff to get them to understand the importance of making small changes to their working day that will help the industry progress.

The staff are encouraged to consider the impact their work has on the environment and accept responsibility for this.

"Daily activities are built around what we can influence. Staff access to Aquaflex data, leads to putting correct amounts of water on pasture, minimising chance of drainage into the aquifers and taking care of the resources and employing best practices on farm. We need all three to make progress," he said.

Mr Saunders is one of several young farmers in the Hinds Plains Land and Water Partnership who want to make positive changes to how they farm. Sixty-six per cent of the Hinds catchment is dairy related through dairy support, arable crops for dairy and dairy farming.

Through his involvement in community groups and leadership programmes, Mr Saunders is convinced grassroots farmers need to take responsibility to improve farming practices before change is imposed on them. Complying with the Canterbury regional regulations isn't enough.

"It should be about doing the right thing every day when no one else is looking."

Effluent dispersal is a good example of how the couples are tackling changes on their farm.

"Its not about when the pond is full, that is the time to spread effluent. It might rain on the 32nd day and they can't do it," he says.

"My message is to get effluent on when it suits."

Simple learning tools and visual aids about when to apply effluent safely are available for staff who have back-up from smart phones, graphs and a website which gives real-time state-of-soil moisture readings for effluent dispersal.

Staff monitor application rates through "the bucket test", a simple procedure that requires placing a bucket with a rock in it, under the arc of the spreader and half an hour later "dipsticking" to measure the amount in the bottom. "So they know to use the bucket test weekly as a minimum when they are setting up a run. The bucket shifts and shares responsibility for accountability and it has to be right every day or we're not doing the right thing for our acquifers and resources."

Faith in his staff and methods allows him to leave the farm knowing they will get things right around effluent and irrigation.

Before the introduction of his teaching tools, he would only run the irrigator and boom application when he was on the farm. Now when he returns home and sees things running smoothly he is confident everyone understands the importance of dispersal rates.

As a follow-on from the forum, Mr Saunders is willing to talk to his community about dairying.

"I am feeling comfortable and right about the way I am going forward and want to be part of the change-making process."

The Southland Times