Dairy leaders' forum looks at environmental sustainability

Martin Bennett is chairing the Building Environmental Leaders Network Forum.
Martin Bennett is chairing the Building Environmental Leaders Network Forum.

About 70 award-winning dairy farmers and industry leaders from throughout New Zealand are speaking at an environmental leadership forum that starts in Invercargill today.

The Building Environmental Leaders Network Forum is a three-day event that allows farmers and leaders from throughout New Zealand to discuss complex sustainability issues facing the dairy industry.

This year's theme is "taking a common sense approach to sustainable dairying", and is run by the New Zealand Farm Environment Trust in partnership with DairyNZ.

Forum chairman and North Island dairy farmer Martin Bennett said the programme allows key industry leaders to talk about environmental challenges facing the industry and develop leadership skills to help others in the community manage these issues.

"Every dairy farm is a piece of jigsaw.

"We embrace their achievements and help them untangle complex sustainability challenges so they understand how they fit into the big picture," he said.

Dairy farmers need to adapt to changes in the industry but at a pace at which their business can survive and prosper, Bennett said.

"We can't have wholesale changes overnight as they'll bankrupt farmers.

"We need to be financially viable to make changes," he said.

Environment Southland chair Ali Timms said given the problems in Southland with dairy effluent running into waterways it would be good for the participating farmers to come forward and speak up about sustainability.

"We don't have all of the solutions. I think it's got to be sensible and practical."

Southland was probably ahead of most areas when it came to dairy effluent rules but it was very much site-specific, she said.

Most farmers realised they had to pay a bit more to put in sustainable systems, Timms said.

She will be joining a discussion group about encouraging leadership tomorrow and will push the need for more women in politics and leadership positions.

The forum runs until November 29 at the Ascot Park Hotel in Invercargill. terri.russell@stl.co.nz

The Southland Times