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Catchments take steps forward

Land & Water

DairyNZ is working with dairy farming communities as they work through a process to establish water quality limits.

DairyNZ's approach to the ‘farming with limits’ programme is captured in the four-step process illustrated (right). Dairying catchments throughout New Zealand are currently working through this process, with four profiled here.

Mangere catchment

In Northland, the community is significantly improving water quality in the Mangere catchment.

Ranked poorest regionally for many water quality indicators in 2006/2007, Northland Regional Council monitored the Mangere River over the next four years.

In the past year, DairyNZ has used the council data to show improving trends in water quality. DairyNZ’s water quality specialist Tom Stephens says now the community is defining its desired water quality.

“Through a catchment stakeholder group that includes three dairy farmers, the community is defining values at a level which strikes the right balance of water quality for them,” says Tom.

Ecosystem and human health are two values the government requires councils to protect in all waterways nationwide, so DairyNZ has been able to advise on actions to take to enhance these values. 

The 8200ha catchment has 19 dairy farms. Since 2007, many farms have excluded stock from waterways and upgraded effluent systems, which has improved water quality.

Median concentrations of E.coli have decreased by 14 percent on average each year since 2007, which is associated with upgrades to 17 of the 19 dairy farm effluent systems in the catchment.

DairyNZ catchment leader Helen Moodie is working with farm consultants implementing Sustainable Milk Plans for dairy farms, with tasks to reduce sediment loss and increase stream oxygen levels.

What farmers think about it

"Farmers are realising we have to make an effort to improve the stream and it’s got good buy-in," says Royce Kokich, dairy farmer and stakeholder group co-chair.

“We are just getting into the nitty-gritty of the expectations for the waterway and learning about other sectors’ values of the water.

I think it’s important we have good advocates for dairy farmers (as part of these processes).”

Royce’s Sustainable Milk Plan includes actions to increase the effluent area, and to add more planting and fencing around wet areas.

Waituna catchment

In 2011, the Waituna lagoon made headlines for declining water quality and the need to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus loading. Since then, the catchment’s 48 dairy farmers have reduced their farms’ effects.

DairyNZ water quality specialist David Burger says more recently, the focus has been on science.

“There are still a lot of gaps in our understanding, as it’s complicated by differences in soil type, high land use intensity and the water level management,” says David.

“This year, we’ve been looking at 11 key aspects - from understanding nutrient loss processes and modelling nutrient loads, to a wetland study.”

A catchment model is quantifying the total nutrient footprint.

“This will help us evaluate the collective impact of different mitigation strategies.”

The science and economic studies, finishing now, will feed into a catchment-wide plan where water quality meets community expectations, while keeping farm businesses viable.

What farmers think about it

“We have made a few farm changes - a concrete silage pad, a skip for rubbish, disposing properly of silage plastics, bulk fertiliser applications GPS recorded and using a soil moisture probe for effluent management,” says Raewyn van Gool, who employs 50:50 sharemilkers on their 145ha, 415 cow farm at Waituna.

“Farmers have really taken ownership of it. They have been supportive of what’s happening and often take initiative to do things before they have to. It has been good seeing how the community has come together. There’s a really cooperative spirit.”

Upper Waikato Sustainable Milk Project

The 700 dairy farmers between Huka Falls and Karapiro Dam are helping improve the Waikato River’s water quality.

Through the Upper Waikato Sustainable Milk Project, dairy farmers are ticking off actions which contribute to better water quality.

The DairyNZ-led project, with co-funding from the Waikato River Authority and the Primary Growth Partnership, supports farmers
to complete on-farm actions they agree to in a Sustainable Milk Plan. At June 30 2014, 650 farmers had committed to the project and 510 farms had a Sustainable Milk Plan.

DairyNZ project leader, Adrian Brocksopp, says farmers initially work with a consultant to identify actions on-farm that will
improve environmental performance.

DairyNZ project leader, Adrian Brocksopp, says farmers initially work with a consultant to identify actions on-farm that will improve environmental performance.

While water quality is generally good in the upper Waikato, there are some issues emerging with increasing nitrogen and sediment levels. A collaborative process, with significant industry input will make recommendations to Waikato Regional Council on water quality limits by November 2015.

It's a very important project and I’m keen to be proactive. It’s helped our farm system on the whole, making us more compliant, sustainable and keeping costs down wherever possible.

Daniel Sneddon, farmer

What farmers think about it

“It’s a very important project and I’m keen to be proactive. It’s helped our farm system on the whole, making us more compliant, sustainable and keeping costs down wherever possible, which is a good thing,” says Daniel Sneddon, a Lichfield (Tokoroa) farmer. 

“We’ve been looking to minimise water use, by capturing rainwater and diverting it to washdown water. We’re also installing an effluent storage tank providing 3.5 months


A programme helping lower North Island dairy farmers with their land use consent application will help smooth the process.

DairyNZ project manager Geoff Taylor says the Horizons' One Plan requires all 430 dairy farmers in affected catchments to apply for a land use resource consent.

“Farmers will be asked to reduce nitrogen (N) leaching as much as possible but will not be forced into actions that will unduly affect production or profitability,“ says Geoff. The consent process involves establishing each farm’s baseline for N leaching, then developing a nutrient management plan.”

DairyNZ has nine consultants helping farmers complete consent applications and the first ones have just been completed and submitted.

“Whoever prepares the consent must have an Advanced Nutrient Management Certificate, but it’s also important they understand farm systems, because reducing N changes farm management. That’s why we are working with consultants who understand both farm systems and Overseer.

“We want achievable farmer actions that will make a difference to water quality, without putting farms out of
business or impacting the regional economy.” 

The consent process application programme is available now - contact adam.duker@dairynz.co.nz to register.

What farmers think about it

“I’ve been through the process with a consultant and we’re just at the stage where we’re putting possible options on  paper,” says Bram Verkleij, who farms 110ha and 280 cows in Eketahuna.

“With the consultant, we worked through our current nutrient management and how we can modify it to reduce nitrogen lost, by modelling different ideas. The options we are considering are less cropping and feeding out more maize silage.

“You have to be very comfortable with it because that’s it for 20 years. It’s a long-term decision.”

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