They are improving effluent management, controlling pests, fencing off streams, planting banks, establishing wetlands and retiring land. Their efforts are making a difference. Some are winning awards.
The Mangapapa Stream, near Woodville, was recognised as the second most improved waterway for dissolved inorganic nitrogen at last year's Morgan Foundation River Awards.
The stream, a tributary of the Manawatu River, runs through a rural catchment where dairy farms are common.
It showed an improving trend of 13.6 percent per year for dissolved inorganic nitrogen during the past 10 years. Better management of water take has resulted in more stable flows, which has helped improve water quality and general river health.
All farming in the catchment is now a consented land use activity and, to get consent, farmers must put in place measures to reduce nitrogen leaching below 2012/13 levels.
To help with the consenting process, DairyNZ funded Sustainable Milk Plans. This resulted in a number of on-farm initiatives, funded by farmers, to improve the stream’s water quality.
These included 15.1km of stream bank fencing which helped reduce E.coli and phosphate levels; applying less fertiliser at critical times of the year (when ground is wet) to avoid leaching; upgrading effluent systems; retiring and planting land; changing or removing crops to reduce nitrate leaching.
Marty Genet, who farms in the catchment, said that through the Sustainable Milk Plan process he made a number of changes with positive results.
“We have reduced our stocking rate from 340 to 318 without a drop in production. We also monitor our grass growth and are careful with nitrogen application,” says Marty.
“We have upgraded our effluent systems because we have free-draining loam soil and very wet springs. This season we’re building a new 600 cubic metre storage pond and we’ve bought a slurry tanker so we can apply effluent every day when the soil water deficit permits.
“A new pond is a big investment, but having the ability to store effluent when it’s wet is essential. We are very pleased with the outcome.”
Otago group rewarded
A West Otago community group, Pathways for the Pomahaka, won the river story section of the awards.
The group, established in 2013 by the New Zealand Landcare Trust, has a range of stakeholders with an interest in improving the health of the Pomahaka River catchment.
Local farmers formed the Pomahaka Farmers’ Water Care Group, chaired by dairy environment leader Lloyd McCall. He says 85 farmers and landowners are involved in improving farm management practices, reducing nutrient losses and improving water quality.
“Winning the River Award has given us all a shot in the arm. We’re still testing our water and are starting to promote discharge testing so farmers can test their own discharge water and we hope that over the next three years we will identify some trends,” says Lloyd.
“We’re a farmer-led group wanting to improve water quality and, while we’re mindful of regional council requirements, we want our land in good shape to pass on to future generations.”
This article was originally published in Inside Dairy April 2016