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Green farming solutions in Southland

Land & Water

"It's important to be run a profitable business but we've also got to be sustainable," said Pourakino Valley dairy farmer David Diprose.

He's the driving force behind the establishment of the Pourakino Catchment Group that aims to improve water quality in the Pourakino Arm of Jacobs Estuary in the Riverton area of western Southland.

He also wants to help improve the public's perception of agriculture as being both economically and environmentally sustainable.

The catchment group was formed earlier this year after Diprose attended a Dairy Leaders Forum and their first field day was held last Thursday.

Diprose has already taken steps to improve water quality on his 800-cow dairy farm by building a pond to trap sediment, which is a major issue due to the valley's high rainfall.

"We can receive up to two metres of rain a year."

This is about twice the average Southland rainfall of 800 to 1000mm and means farmers in the Pourakino Valley are dealing with a climate similar to the South Island's West Coast.

While ground conditions are wet and soggy at this time of the year, they are even more so on Diprose's Western Southland property.

Parka and leggings are typical winter attire.

Diprose has already carried out a DairyNZ Sustainable Milk Plan which has identified things he could do better on the farm.

With the help of Fish and Game, he has built a pond to trap sediment and he has also created a wetland that will soon be planted out with native trees.

He has also slashed his clean water usage in half by installing a green wash at the cowshed at a cost of about $50,000 which has a one-year payback.

"Sustainable farming has to have a quick payback."

The green wash works by pumping water from Diprose's effluent pond to a tank at his cowshed.

This water is then used to flood his yard while clean water, from another source, is used to wash the plant in the milking shed.

"We used to pump about 60,000 litres of (clean) water but now we're down to about 30,000 litres.

"We're also saving an hour a day by not having to hose the yard."

Diprose said his staff were a lot happier not having to wash the yard and he had less lame cows because the yard was regularly flood washed.

He stressed the importance of both dairy farmers and sheep and beef farmers working together to improve water quality in the catchment.

"We've got to be honest and open with each other. I can do the right thing but my neighbour can potentially undo it."

Further along the road sheep farmer Geordie Eade has fenced off most of his major waterways which has prevented stock access.

"It's been a huge advantage.

"We used to have triplet ewes dropping their lambs in the creek."

Eade farms mainly sheep and a few cattle and describes himself as an intensive lamb finisher.

He attended a Beef + Lamb New Zealand Land Environment Plan workshop about a month ago which he found extremely valuable.

 "I should have done it six years ago.

"It identified the need to do a nutrient budget."

Eade had also moved to away from intensive break feeding of his ewes during the winter to shifting them every two to three days.

"It's reduced the amount of mud and run-off and it's a lot less work."

About 80 per cent of the bush on Eade's property has been fenced off and there is still more to do although some areas will be left unfenced because's it's great shelter for his shorn sheep.

Eade also spends a lot of money on soil testing because he believes it's better to strategically apply fertiliser where it's needed.

Pourakino sheep, beef and dairy grazer Jason Kells, who is currently developing his farm, said the environment plan had encouraged him to focus on certain areas of his property.

"We're low in nutrients so we've been building them up," he said.

Diprose's next goal was to carry out a DairyNZ Warrant of Fitness on his farm dairy effluent system infrastructure.

"It will give me piece of mind that my system is working correctly.

"It's like a warrant of fitness on a car - you want to know if anything is broken before you have an accident," Diprose said.

The Southland Times

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