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Farm staff help lift the environmental bar

Land & Water

Empowering farm staff to understand how their actions impact on the environment is as important to Mark Saunders as understanding it himself.

Mark and his wife Pennie operate a 2000 cow equity partnership at Westerfield, Mid-Canterbury, known as Waioto Farm.

Mark was one of 40 farmers selected to travel to Wellington to attend a Dairy Environment Leaders Forum, hosted by DairyNZ to inspire farmer leaders.

A key belief of Mark’s has been a need for dairy farmers, particularly those on lighter soils or in sensitive catchments, to better manage their soil moisture levels and nitrogen losses through the soil’s profile.

But he also appreciates that due to the scale of many farms in those catchments, it is also critical for farm staff to understand why attention to those areas is so vital.

“It is what they are doing when I am not here, that is the challenge. The younger generation of staff, they do get onboard with the environmental aspect, and I will often frame up what they are doing around that.”

Technology crucial to staff understanding

Understanding how critical soil moisture levels are to nutrient losses, and economic application, is also shared with staff.

By using soil moisture technology and making it available to staff, Mark can ask their opinion on water application rates and soil moisture status.

“They get to understand the science and look up from their day-to-day work and build their own judgement and input into the decisions, understanding the ‘why’ behind what we are doing.”

Overall he says the input from the farm’s partners and staff team play an integral part in initiatives being successful.

Reducing environmental footprint

Waioto Farm has also invested in infrastructure to help minimise the farm’s environmental footprint.

Along with the soil moisture technology, a recent effluent system upgrade has a greenwash system installed in the farm dairies. The cleaner effluent water is taken from the second pond and re-used through the backing gate to be sprayed onto the dairy yard.

“This has increased the capacity of that pond from 30 days of storage to 50, which means we are pulling less water out of the ground just to hose down the yard, and saving on electricity too.”

Farmers speaking out

Beyond the farm gate, Mark is a big believer in dairy farmers speaking out on where they want the future of their sector to go – that belonging to a producer co-operative is not enough.

Without active participation, rules and regulations will be shaped, and only collective input with see constructive, workable outcomes for farmers and rural communities.

“We have opportunities to make good decisions from good science-based evidence, like Pastoral 21 research work, and utilising some of the excellent technology available,” says Mark.

“It’s also important we have opportunities for each of us to raise the bar with smarter practices every year.”

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