Dairy at Work

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Getting greener brings bonus for next generation

Land & Water

Mat Hocken has found adopting a more environmentally-sensitive effluent system on his family’s 1000 cow operation is also delivering positive economic benefits.

The well-established family operation has come to grips with one of the most common environmental challenges for dairy farms – how to best store and apply effluent in a more timely, effective way.

Mat is a lower order sharemilker and has enjoyed having some input to the family farm’s direction.

“Over the past three years we have spent over $180,000 upgrading the system, including installing two plastic lined ponds, new pumps and hooking the feedpad and yard infrastructure up to the storage ponds as well.”

Now they have adequate storage to hold effluent from the start of calving through to late September. Mat says it has made life simpler after having a system that involved more “just in time” application, and sometimes necessitated application regardless of weather conditions or soil moisture levels.

“Now we are much more confident when we apply the effluent that it is going on at a time when leaching is minimal.”

It was a big cost, but the benefits have included better grass growth through the prolonged dry spell over summer.

Greater environmental management

Mat believes dairying is on the cusp of significant lifts in environmental management.

Ongoing development in areas of precision agriculture are likely to help shrink farm environmental footprints – improved data flows will help farmers determine the optimal level of effluent or fertiliser application, relative to soil type, moisture and application rate.

Farming in the Horizons region has already sharpened the environmental understanding of many farmers there as they come to better understand the nature of the soils they farm on, and the responses to nutrient losses.

The Manawatu-Wanganui Regional Growth Study also provided insights to better use of the region’s high value soils.

The environmental walk

For Mat the need to be “walking the walk” environmentally is in part driven by the farm’s location, bisected by the main road, which makes it a shop front for best practice and a strong motivator to ensure staff are also onboard with responsible effluent management.

He believes it is increasingly vital to lift the understanding of the non-farming New Zealand public about steps farmers are taking to protect the environment they rely heavily upon.

“There are some good stories out there. I found when I attended the Dairy Environment Leaders’ Forum there were some very smart, profitable operators out there who were delivering a positive environmental outcome, along with that profit.”

Longer term he has plans for further environmental enhancements around the property, including native plantings and further riparian plantings around waterways.

He is looking forward to getting a few more years behind him on the family farm, but is keen to see more of those experienced “clean green” operators championed by the industry to the public.

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