Having a productive dairy farm does not have to come at the expense of the environment, say Chris and Lynsey Stratford.
The Stratford’s lower-order share milk and part own South Coast Dairy, a 200 hectare farm near Southland’s Curio Bay. They have farmed the property for three seasons, milking 385 cows at the peak of the season. Production on their predominantly pasture based system averaged 425kg of milk solids per cow.
The farm is a working, profitable dairy farm first and foremost. Chris says their management has a broad focus. ‘‘For us we want to be good stewards of the environment, but that sits alongside being good people managers, being good cow managers and running a really tight ship.’’
Their farm lies near the southern most tip of the South Island near Curio Bay, an important tourist area where surfers sometimes share the waves with Hector’s dolphins and yellow-eyed penguins.
The farm was converted to dairying four years ago and it was no surprise the proposed dairy conversion attracted controversy and protests when it was first publicised. However, the Stratford’s, along with the South Coast Dairy’s other four partnership families saw an opportunity to do the right thing.
The farm’s run-down state provided the Stratfords with a fresh opportunity, Lynsey says. ‘‘We all came in wanting to do some good. Dairying has a lot of negative connotations but we had a blank canvas here and we knew that we wanted to farm it well.’’
Having that canvas gave the Stratford’s the opportunity to do everything properly and start afresh. ‘‘We know how special this land is. It’s got lots of special and unique features you wouldn’t find on other dairy farms and we wanted to protect those and enhance them where we could.’’
The land originally had little pasture renewal and there were no stock water systems. The animals had open access to the forestry and waterways on the farm. The buildings were also run down and there was little shelter for the livestock. South Coast Dairy’s strength was that all members of the partnership brought different skills.
In the four and a half years they have fenced off all of the waterways, placing the fences at least 15-20 metres back from the bank and planting trees around those areas. They also fenced off a 29 hectare podocarp forest and protected it under a QEII National Trust covenant. A pest control programme keeps down the numbers of possums and mustelids such as stoats and weasels.
They also developed a water system for the livestock so the cows would not be forced to enter waterways to drink. The entire farm has been re-grassed and fertiliser added to promote growth.
They have planted over 10,000 plants in the time they have been there. They follow best practise nutrient and effluent management and seek advice from outside agencies to ensure they get that right.
Environment Southland also test the quality of the water four times a year at different areas on the farm and they have noticed a significant improvement in water quality. Their efforts were recognised this year when they picked up a number of farming awards including the water management and farm stewardship awards for the Southland region’s Farm Environment Awards.
They also won the farming section of Environment Southland’s Environmental Awards, and were runner-up at the Southland Sharemilker-Equity Farmer Dairy Industry Awards.
Lynsey says they entered the awards to get outside opinion on their farm business. ‘‘The main reason we went into the awards was to get that feedback, to see what you are doing well and where you can improve from industry experts.’’
Winning, she says was just a bonus.