The Upper Waikato Sustainable Milk Project allows dairy farmers to introduce a plan specific for their business that will ultimately improve water quality in the Waikato River.
The project will improve on farm water use efficiency and encourage farmers to do more than what is required under current regulation. It is being carried out in the Upper Waikato River Catchment - an area spanning from the Huka Falls down to the Karapiro Dam. Eventually the project will involve 700 dairy farmers residing in this area.
Farmers that sign up to the project receive advice from professional farm consultants contracted by industry organisation DairyNZ. These consultants can spend up to three days with each farmer free of charge. A farm plan is developed that is tailor-made for their farm with the full support of the farmer.
The resulting farmer buy-in is critical for the plan’s success, DairyNZ project manager for catchment engagement, Adrian Brocksopp said. ‘‘We’re hoping we get engagement because the farmer has agreed to it and wants to do it.’’
That engagement was the ‘‘that lightbulb moment’’, he said. ‘‘That’s when the farmer realises there is something they can do that’s not going to cost any money, but the actual environmental or financial benefit could be massive.’’ The resulting agreed action would then drive on farm change, he said.
Collectively, their on-farm efforts to improve environmental performance will have a significant positive effect on the health of the catchment and the Waikato River.
This project is being managed by DairyNZ and is supported by the dairy industry, including Fonterra, Open Country and Miraka dairy companies, all of which have farmer suppliers in the catchment.
The Waikato River Authority has invested $685,000 over three years in the project with the remainder of the $2.2 million project cost coming from dairy farmers through DairyNZ and the Government’s Primary Growth Partnership.
The project began in June 2012, with the first plans signed up in December.The aim is to have all the plans finished by June 2014 ahead of the completion of the project in June 2015. So far, just under 500 of the 700 farmers in the catchment had committed to a plan and just under 300 plans had already been completed.
The high uptake showed the increasing awareness farmers have for the environment. ‘‘Farmers are really engaged into how they can help the environment and how they can help to secure their future.
‘‘A lot of the farms we deal with are second, third generation and they want their farms to be around for their grand children,’’ Brocksopp said. They wanted to ensure they were economically and environmentally sustainable, he said.
The project was being trialled in other parts of New Zealand on a smaller scale. Pilot schemes were being trialled in catchments in Northland, Canterbury and Southland. The plans are the same but are tailored for the unique challenges these regions face.
Brocksopp said the long term view of the industry was for these plans to be available for all dairy farmers. ‘‘It is what going through the process creates. It creates opportunity to look at your farm a bit differently and think about what could I be doing. It’s a brilliant vehicle.’’
To find out more about this project, click here.