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Good farming practices deliver benefits

Land & Water

The first analysis of the Upper Waikato Sustainable Milk Project has highlighted the change dairy farmers are making to improve their environmental footprint.

It made farmers realise they could make a positive contribution that led to change, DairyNZ project manager Adrian Brocksopp said.

Brocksopp said he was pleased with the project's progress and there was still time for other farmers to get involved. It showed there was great potential to enact on farm change that benefited the environment by getting farmers to use best-practice farming techniques.

Waikato River

"There are still a lot of things farmers can do that doesn't necessarily mean a big investment to get that change."

Most reductions are based on good farming practices.

Many simple practice changes do not only reduce leaching but can also help make farms more profitable, he said.

The analysis showed 553 dairy farmers had completed a sustainable milk plan.

Within those plans those farmers were committed to 3610 individual actions that were contributing to a positive change in the Waikato River.

Those actions could lead to an average of 8 per cent reduction in nitrogen and a 16 per cent reduction in phosphorus.

The project is the largest environmental good-practice catchment project undertaken by the New Zealand dairy industry.

Co-funded by the Waikato River Authority and DairyNZ, it aimed to accelerate the adoption of good environmental practice on farm to ultimately improve the health of the Waikato River.

Over a three-year period from June 2012, all 700 dairy farms in the Upper Waikato Catchment have being offered one-on-one advice and support via the development of a farm-specific DairyNZ sustainable milk plan.

These plans involved consultants working with farmers to assess the current status of their farming system and identify nutrient, effluent, waterways and land management risks, as well as water use efficiency.

An action plan was developed and follow-up support is provided by the consultant during implementation.

If any investment was required, it was generally an investment the farmer needed to do anyway.

Often they would be running a practice that was out of date and no longer considered good practice, Brocksopp said.

"There's definitely room where we can all contribute."

Many of the actions undertaken by these farmers were smaller actions that collectively made a difference.

It highlighted that farmers were on a journey to establish best environmental practice, but all of their journeys were different and some were farther advanced than others.

That was one of the important parts of the project because it allowed farmers to benchmark themselves so they understand where they were at, Brocksopp said.

"Every farmer is not going to be able to drop to that limit overnight. It's going to be a 10-15 year progression."

He believed tools would become available for farmers to meet footprint targets in the future.

"Getting this momentum going is a good start and I think that's really important," he said.

"Everyone involved has done something according to the different levels of where they are and what their awareness is like."

Brocksopp said they hoped to introduce the project into the Waipa catchment and should know by the end of the year if that is going ahead.

Gerald Piddock - Waikato Times


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