Farmers told to start with basics to help environment

GERALD PIDDOCK
Last updated 08:23 13/05/2014
A 2011 file photo of cows in a waterway.
Fairfax NZ

UNHEALTHY PRACTICE: Basic steps can be taken to ensure images like this from 2011 remain a thing of the past.

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A "think global, act local" approach to environmental management by dairy farmers could help improve their environmental footprint.

That meant thinking beyond their farm and adopting a catchment approach to environmental improvements, DairyNZ environmental policy manager Dr Mike Scarsbrook said at the industry organisation's Farmers' Forum at Mystery Creek near Hamilton.

"We want farmers to think that no matter how small it is, if I make improvements, that's going to collectively add up to quite a significant change."

Farmers knew they had to do something but often were unsure what they could do.

"Our message is, start with some really simple basic stuff."

The environment was one of several topics discussed by farmers, scientists and industry leaders at the two-day event.

Adopting a sustainable milk plan could help those farmers who did not know where to start, DairyNZ catchment engagement project manager Adrian Brocksopp said.

Brocksopp co-ordinates the Upper Waikato Sustainable Milk Project. This is the largest environmental good-practice project undertaken by the dairy industry and allowed for free, one-on-one advice and support to be delivered to the estimated 700 farms in the Upper Waikato Catchment.

Its aim was to reduce nutrient and sediment loads going into the Waikato River as well as improve water use efficiency on farm.

To date, 630 farmers in the catchment had committed to plans, 450 farmer have completed their plans and were using them as part of their management and 120 farms had completed some of the actions on their plan, he said.

Scarsbrook said they would like to expand the project to include the rest of the region.

"Our vision is that every farmer in the country has to work through a sustainable milk plan."

Hauraki Plains farmer Conall Buchanan agreed to a point.

He said there were small things that farmers could do to improve their footprint, including proper effluent management and fencing waterways.

However, there were no easy solutions for farmers.

"We're dealing with biological, ecological and environmental realities and there is no cartoon solution."

Buchanan was one of a group of farmers who spoke at a forum workshop on their perspectives of getting involved in the environmental work around improving catchments.

He said farmers offered huge value to environmental discussions.

"Farmers bring in a big-picture perspective that not all individuals in society have.

"We have to because we need to understand the whole system, not just the impact of one thing."

There was no longer any tolerance in the industry for poor environmental management, such as point source pollution of waterways.

"The days of farmers putting s... into the drain from the cowshed, they're history.

"I'm astounded when I hear that it happens."

The industry had to move towards recognising some of the tools that could mitigate or eliminate environmental effects.

Some of these tools, such as Overseer, were available to farmers, but others were still being developed.

The dairy industry was spending millions on further developing such tools.

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Work by farmers was being done, Buchanan said.

As of November last year, Fonterra farmers alone had erected 20,400 kilometres of fencing to exclude stock from waterways.

Farmers had to lead the way on environmental issues, Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce told farmers at the forum.

"I think we do have to get the balance right between growth and the environment," he said.

"It's important that the dairy industry take a lead on that."

There was a middle band of New Zealanders who were, rightly in his opinion, concerned about water quality and wanted assurance it was being addressed.

Solutions could be found that would satisfy that middle ground, although "there are some people you will never make happy, and you shouldn't worry too much about them, and they are called the Greens".

"My strong view is that in most places you can achieve both productivity and growth ... I back our innovation."

- The Southland Times

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