DairyNZ hopes to have all dairy farmers in the Amuri Basin signed up to its Sustainable Milk Plans by the end of the year, meaning they will comply with new Environment Canterbury environmental regulations well before the 2017 deadline.
The plans are based on a voluntary scheme in the Waikato, tweaked to comply with requirements of the Hurunui Waiau River Regional Plan, which came into force in December, under the Canterbury Water Management Strategy.
"The ultimate goal is this will tick all the boxes so at the moment, as I understand it, it does meet all the requirements of Schedule 2 of the Hurunui plan and Schedule 7 of the Land and Water Regional Plan which are both the farm environment plan schedules," said DairyNZ catchment manager Canterbury Tony Fransen.
Fransen has been trialling the plans on two Hurunui farms since June, including Alan Davie Martin's irrigated property near Culverden.
"We spent three hours together identifying the practices that Alan's undertaking, what are the physical parameters of the farm, farm size, cow numbers, feed coming in, fertiliser use, all of those things are identified."
That information is distilled down to bullet points in a three or four page document that details the farm system and identifies how it can be improved from an environmental point of view.
Davie Martin said the process was relatively painless.
"I joked a wee bit that I ended up saying all these things that I could do and the boys were rapidly writing them down and then I came home and looked at what I said I was going to do. In fact, if I'd shut my mouth and let them do it all I would have come away easier!" Davie Martin said.
"But interaction fosters some thought, constructive criticism is good. It's a simple process that can highlight areas of efficiency and gains and some modifications to the system that actually improve my bottom line. Some of the outcomes of this will be greater efficiencies. It's not always about what's it going to cost me? This information could be of benefit."
Scrutinising use of items like detergent, power, water and fertiliser can lead to savings but other measures like improving effluent storage do have a cost. Davie Martin has spent about $120,000 over the past year, including $90,000 for a new effluent pond with a 24-day capacity.
"We could have minimised the cost and spent $30,000 and got something that stored effluent for five or six days which might have ticked the box but I didn't want to find in five years' time that it needed to be 30 days. We've tried to future-proof it."
Sustainable Milk Plans will bring together data from Fonterra's audited nitrogen management system, information from Amuri Irrigation Company as well as on-farm assessment by trained consultants.
"The three of us are working very closely to try to make sure we get a good idea of what's happening on-farm and what are the easy gains we can make towards the nutrient side of things in environmental compliance," said Fransen.
"It's going to be different from farm to farm, depending on soil type, rivers, what sort of irrigation the farm has. It will give us a line in the sand of how are we doing now and we can track that going forward."
Fransen will meet with ECan staff over the next few weeks to get formal confirmation that the Sustainable Milk Plans satisfy their requirements and, in February, DairyNZ will start training external consultants to work with farmers to prepare the plans.
"We're looking to implement a system that makes the compliance requirements easier and more streamlined for farmers and in a form that removes duplication and gives the information to the farmers in a clear manner," he said.
"The point is we're trying to improve the environment. It's not just a box-ticking exercise."
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