Dairy at Work

Explore our stories

People power progresses regional plan

Land & Water

Dairy farmers in the Manawatu-Whanganui region were faced with strict nitrogen loss limits under the Horizons' One Plan starting in June 2013. The regulations would have been devastating to the dairy industry.

Working together for a better outcome: Allan Benbow, Tracey Collis, Russell Phillips and Philip Hartridge.

Working together for a better outcome: Allan Benbow, Tracey Collis, Russell Phillips and Philip Hartridge.

The far-reaching effects would have been felt throughout the whole community.

Tararua farmer Russell Phillips played a key role in engaging with the council and leading the community through the plan adjustment. Ultimately, it was this community approach that led to an outcome that worked for everyone. 

Outcome focused

Russell says that action by the community group has been driven by three key purposes - “care for environment, care for the economic wellbeing of the community and care for the social infrastructure”.

“Each of these platforms is important,” says Russell. “Throughout the process we have been very outcome-focused, emphasising that the plan’s objectives must have a good result for the economy and the community, as well as the environment.”

The plan's objectives must have a good result for the economy and the community, as well as the environment

Russell Phillips, dairy farmer

Impact of One Plan by numbers

The proposed One Plan was publicly released in May 2007 by Horizons Regional Council. After a ruling from the Environment Court in 2012, farmers faced a plan that set limits around nitrogen (N) loss that required a significant decrease in milk production to meet the targets. 

It was calculated that limits would result in a loss of 9 million kgMS in the Tararua area alone. From an area that produces a total of approximately 33 million kgMS, this would have been a devastating 27 percent loss of production.

At a milk price of $7-8/kg, it would have resulted in a loss of $63-72 million of total gross income each year. The flow-on effect was calculated to result in approximately 300 job losses, with more over time.

Community reliant on dairy

Key players in community leadership: Philip Hartridge, Russell Phillips, Allan Benbow and Tracey Collis.

Key players in community leadership: Philip Hartridge (dairy farmer), Russell Phillips (dairy farmer), Allan Benbow (local company director and businessman) and Tracey Collis (dairy farmer and Tararua district councillor).

Russell says that for an area that is heavily reliant on dairy farming, the effect on the community would have been huge.

“In the Tararua area between Norsewood and Eketahuna, there are 289 dairy farms,” says Russell.

“The community is built on the farming industry. Farm owners and workers play a significant role, but the majority of the community would be affected. Some directly - such as vets, farm supply retailers and service providers, and many indirectly, such as accountants, real estate firms and retailers.”

Bringing the community together

Russell, along with locals Will Findlay, Phil Hartridge, Tracey Collis and Allan Benbow, began the process of gathering data and leading presentations to the Tararua community.

“We made the community the focus and took the emphasis off dairy farmers,” says Russell.

“It was going to affect everyone - we were just one part of the picture.

“Everyone in the community was invited and encouraged to come to the meetings. We had business people, service providers, accountants, mayors (past and present), Tararua District Council members and Chamber of Commerce members attend.” 

Data key to sparking movement

Russell says that gathering the base numbers around the reality of the plan was the first step to igniting action in the community.

“After gathering the base numbers we had them reviewed by an accountant for credibility and accuracy, and we continued to gather conservative and robust data,” says Russell.

An economic analysis of the impact of the policies was done by Allan, a local businessman. External expertise was also bought in and the economic analysis was confirmed and supported by DairyNZ senior economist Matt Newman. Agribusiness consultants, Nimmo Bell, also did analysis for the area and supported the findings. 

“Understanding the implications of the plan on the economy was important,” says Russell. “When people saw how it would affect them the issue became very real.

“We held a lot of educational meetings, with public speakers presenting to the community on fresh water science, economic outcomes, farming systems and Overseer modelling.”

Horizons meeting builds momentum

With concerns growing over the One Plan objectives, the Horizons Regional Council agreed to come and talk to the community and a meeting was set up for May 2013.

Russell says once people were made aware of the facts there was a widespread response. “Community members pitched in to share the message and to get people to come along to the meeting with the council,” says Russell.

“People flocked to the meeting. What was originally expected to be about 40 people snowballed into 350 people in attendance,” says Russell.

“The community was really engaged in the cause and the driving force behind an improved implementation strategy for the One Plan.”

Russell chaired the meeting which included presentations from three Horizons' representatives, Allan on the economic analysis, George Murdoch from Rabobank on the effects on land values, Sharon Shannon an organic farmer, Ravensdown scientist Ants Roberts, a real estate company director Craig Boyden, DairyNZ strategy and investment leader for sustainability Rick Pridmore and DairyNZ environment policy manager, Mike Scarsbrook.

Community members from a range of industries attended, along with two members of parliament, the mayor and four Horizons’ councillors.

Positive outcome for one and all

Russell says that with evidence of the detrimental effects of the plan’s objectives and the community’s overwhelming support, the council agreed to revisit the implementation but still keep it within the legal framework.

The new objectives balanced all three community-driven outcomes - caring for the environment, caring for the community and ensuring the wellbeing of the economy.

A motion for a plan change was passed by the community which would occur if the revised implementation plan wasn’t successful.

Community collaboration key

Russell says the collaborative process involving farmers and the wider community continues to be positive for everyone.

“The community was exceptional in the way it supported each other for a better outcome.

“We now have a very strong relationship with Horizons. They meet with our group – the Tararua Community Economic Impact Society, four to six times each year,” says Russell.

“The great success is that we have been able to implement the One Plan with little economic effect on the farms or community and with a 10 to 15 percent nitrate footprint reduction.

“The council is happy to involve us in the plans going forward. I think any community wants to be involved in something that will affect them, and know that there has been a collaborative process that is transparent.”

Farmers investing in the environment

Tararua dairy farmer Russell Phillips.

Tararua dairy farmer Russell Phillips.

Tararua dairy farmer Russell Phillips says farmers are actively working at ways to maintain and improve the environment. 

“A benefit of being able to maintain milk production is the added ability to invest capital in good environmental systems,” says Russell.

“Dairy farmers have done a lot to reduce their environmental impact and we are continually looking at ways we can improve our systems. Farmers have fenced waterways to exclude stock, done riparian planting and upgraded effluent systems where needed. These are all big investments in the environment and the sustainability of their farm.

“There are no effluent discharge points in the Horizons region – so we have no effluent running into waterways. Urea usage is being planned more efficiently and farmers are looking at different ways to reduce nitrogen leaching.”

Russell says that farmers are taking advantage of the science that is continually evolving, providing ways to farm smarter.

“Over the last 20 years, levels of nitrate in the Manawatu River have been relatively stable at around 0.5 ppm (parts per million). Yet during that time, milk production has more than doubled and dairy cow numbers have gone from 50,000 to 100,000.”

Dairy Environment Leaders' Forum

Along with 55 other dairy farming leaders, Russell Phillips attended the Dairy Environment Leaders' Forum in December 2013, a farmer-led conference set up by DairyNZ to support dairy farming leaders in environmental stewardship and leading positive change.

Russell says it is an excellent event which really encourages participants to take action.

“It really highlights that most farmers are progressive. Farmers are finding smarter ways of farming and of getting it right. We’re interested in looking after the environment.”

The forum is now in its eighth year and over 230 people have been through the programme. Former participants have joined collaborative stakeholder groups, formed catchment committees, won industry awards and have stepped up in their communities to lead the way in sustainability.

The investment in community leaders is a key initiative to achieving sustainable farming in New Zealand, says DairyNZ strategy and investment leader Rick Pridmore.

Further Articles