It’s fair to say that almost all dairy farmers care deeply for the natural world that surrounds them every day of their lives – and they are passionate about protecting and nurturing it for the generations to come.
For dairy farmers, the focus in the past few years has been on improving waterways, enhancing biodiversity, and controlling predators, both weed plants and animal pests, such as possums, rats and stoats. They know some of their actions are also already helping to lower greenhouse gas emissions, and that there are further mitigations under development they will be implementing in the future.
The farmers around the country who are part of the Dairy Environment Leaders programme, set up six years ago to develop responsible dairying, are true kaitiaki. They not only roll up their sleeves on their land, but they are also inspiring other farmers. They are active in their communities, on boards and local committees and catchment groups, leading the way in achieving good outcomes for the environment and farming.
With the 50th anniversary of Conservation Week underway – and to honour dairy farmers’ protection of their special part of the planet – check out this range of actions that are being embraced across thousands of farms in New Zealand: each farmer does a few to a lot of these 50 ‘loves of the land’.
On the farm
- Creating farm environment plans (FEPs) to recognise on-farm environmental risks and set out a programme to manage them. FEPs are unique to each farm and reflect the local climate and soils, the type of farming operation, and the goals and aspirations of the farmer.
- Fencing waterways to keep cows out – 24,249 kms of waterways are now fenced, comprising 98.3 percent of significant dairy waterways (more than one metre wide and 30cm deep).
- Bridging stock crossings, again to exclude animals from waterways.
- Carrying out extensive riparian planting every year to help sop up contaminants before they enter waterways.
- Installing constructed wetlands, again to remove key contaminants before they enter streams.
- Protecting natural wetlands.
- Installing state-of-the-art contaminant removal systems called bioreactors that remove nitrogen from subsurface drainage water before it is discharge into surface water bodies.
- Trialling new electronic virtual fencing technology that enables greater control of where cows need to be at certain times to reduce contaminant losses from critical source areas.
- Preparing nutrient budgets to allow careful planning of nutrient applications and to manage nutrient losses.
- Providing important ‘native corridors’ through New Zealand’s pastoral landscape with riparian planting and protecting remnant bush areas on farms.
- Growing premium pasture to allow New Zealand’s predominantly grass-fed dairy cows to be the most emissions-efficient producers of milk – at 0.80kg CO2/kg of milksolids, our milk’s emissions are world-leading and well under the global developed world average of 2.5kg CO2/kg MS.
- Spending, literally, millions of dollars on installing and maintaining effluent management systems.
- Using ‘green gold’, the natural fertiliser, cleverly and efficiently: effluent spreading on paddocks. There’s even an app many farmers have on their smartphones to instantly tell them how much and when to spread.
- Using recycled water to wash down cow sheds and feed pads.
- Installing solar panels on cowsheds.
- Some wind turbines too.
- Recycling and upcycling.
- Reducing plastic waste.
- Growing supplementary feeds on-farm.
- Using low-energy light bulbs.
- Stablilising hillsides to reduce erosion and sediment entering waterways.
- Retiring marginal land and protecting it with stock-proof fencing.
- Fencing off and protect significant trees too.
- Tracking and trapping possums.
- Strip-grazing to prevent unnecessary pugging of soil and mud.
- Protecting native birds by fencing out dogs.
- Keeping beehives and harvesting honey from their riparian manuka plantings.
- Eradicating pest plants such as yellow bristle grass, which is a serious threat to pastures; velvet leaf, a cropping pest plant found in fodder beet and maize.
- Controlling pest insects like black beetle, clover root weevil and black field crickets.
- Getting involved with the Dairy Environment Leaders’ programme to be a role model to other farmers.
- Adopting technology that helps to lower the footprint, including various smartphone apps, and sophisticated devices for water and fertiliser measurements and for irrigation.
- Where they can, swapping out vehicles using fossil fuels for EVs and hybrids – e.g. electric farm bikes.
- Minimising paper and other products in their farm offices.
- Hosting school pupils, their teachers and parents on their farms when they always discuss the environment and often involve them in planting native species.
Farmers’ environmental effort carries over into their homes too. Often, they are:
- Drinking milk produced on their farm.
- Collecting rainwater for drinking and household use, rather than accessing mains water supplies.
- Treating all wastewater on site - anything that goes down the kitchen sink, the handbasin and toilets.
- Minimising plastics including plastic food storage bags and containers, and wrap.
- Using multiple-use, non-plastic bags for grocery shopping.
- Growing their own fruit and vegetables.
- When purchasing produce, aiming to buy local and in season, often supporting local growers and farmers’ markets.
- Eating sustainably raised meat – often raised on their own farms.
- Keeping their own poultry for eggs and meat – hens, ducks, etc.
- Heating their homes with low emission wood burners fuelled by wood harvested from their own farms or the neighbours’.
- Getting their kids outside, not only for fresh air and exercise, but to disconnect from technology and reconnect with nature and the farm animals.
In the community
And into the communities that surround them by:
- Joining local wildlife protection groups.
- Getting involved with local councils to help ensure good outcomes for the community, including environmental clean ups and protection work.
- Planting trees and native vegetation in the likes of local schools and parks for today, and for tomorrow’s generations – kowhai, manuka, flaxes, the forest giants.
- Joining local catchment groups working to enhance biodiversity and restore rivers, lakes and wetlands.
- Spearheading local pest control groups.
Senior Communications & Media Specialist
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