Strategic leader for DairyNZ’s environmental portfolio, Dr David Burger, said while the report shows the dairy sector has work to do, there is no doubt farmers are working hard to look after the environment – with significant work already undertaken over the last 10 years to improve environmental practices across New Zealand.
“The Environment Aotearoa report helps us understand the changes over time. There are some areas where more work needs to happen or where current initiatives will take time to deliver results,” said Dr Burger.
“There is also an opportunity for the dairy sector, government and conservation groups to work more closely together to support farmers in making changes and understanding the effects downstream. For example, in Southland’s Aparima Catchment we are working closely with all land users to collectively improve the estuary.
“Dairy has a clear vision – we all need to improve our environment and that’s why we’re actively in the community, talking about the role we all play. We have been on a journey for many years to look after the environment, and we will continue that good work. Cow numbers have now stablilised so our focus is managing our farm systems more sustainably.
“We farm in areas of immense cultural value, as well as where people come to connect and play. Our farmers take their responsibilities seriously and are working toward leaving the environment in a better state. We know this will take time but we are committed to this kaitiaki.”
The Dairy Tomorrow sector strategy launched in 2017 includes a strong commitment by dairy to protect and nurture the environment for future generations, including leading efforts to improve river and stream health, and enhance biodiversity.
“As part of the strategy we are developing a 50-year vision for sustainable dairy land use in New Zealand,” said Dr Burger.
“Dairy farmers, individually and as a coordinated sector, strive every day to protect the environment. Many dairy farmers are working incredibly hard on their farms and in their communities to turn around the effects of many years ago, as science and research has begun providing greater understanding of our environment.
“Water quality is a big one for us but we all have to acknowledge it is a really complex issue, as also highlighted by the report. In any New Zealand waterway, there are contaminants from multiple sources and each catchment is different – neighbouring land use, soil and land type, the key issues and the how each waterway functions are all part of finding the right solution.”
DairyNZ is working with catchments nationwide where farmers are making changes to improve local waterways.
“In some cases, farms can make small adjustments to their system, such as planting waterways or adjusting fertiliser and effluent applications. On other farms, investments include new effluent systems or utilising new knowledge around crops which absorb excess nitrogen or produce less nitrate from cows, and therefore reduce runoff and leaching into waterways.
Dr Burger said the Environment Aotearoa 2019 report is an opportunity for everyone to think how to better the environment.
“We have thousands of passionate dairy farmers and a sector which is committed to continuing to reduce its impacts and be sustainable milk producers. We all have a part to play – urban, rural, north and south, and the dairy sector is no different. We care about the environment, our waterways and climate change just as much as anyone else.”
Dairy’s work to achieve a better environment
Ecosystems and biodiversity
DairyNZ is developing a biodiversity strategy with a holistic, landscape-scale approach to recognising the relationship between agriculture and native biodiversity with ecosystem health and function. Increasing wetlands and their effectiveness on dairy farms will be a key component.
DairyNZ is working to address soil risks such as erosion, starting with a national review of all soil risks relevant to the dairy sector, by region. DairyNZ will then collaborate with relevant organisations to ensure that the advice to farmers around soils is practical, current and reflects the latest scientific understanding of risk to both production and the environment.
Dairy farmers are focused on soil health and land protection – DairyNZ provides advice to refine fertiliser application, reduce soil compaction, improve practices for grazing stock off-farm over winter and restoring wetlands.
DairyNZ has supported farmers to complete more riparian planting on farms. A Riparian Planner resource and regional planting guides help farmers to plan and protect erosion-prone landscapes.
Work is underway on the Dairy Tomorrow commitment to improve waterway health and biodiversity – working with other rural and urban land users, communities, and central and local government to achieve swimmable waterways. This collaborative work also includes developing a 50-year vision for sustainable land use and all farms implementing and reporting under certified farm sustainability plans, by 2025.
DairyNZ invests more than $10 million every year into environmental research and development to improve waterways, effluent, wetland management, nutrients, land and water conservation. This includes supporting dairy farmers to meet their obligations.
Additional DairyNZ research and modelling looks at the range of options to reduce nitrogen leaching. DairyNZ has undertaken world-leading research into forages which reduce leaching, including plantain use in the lower North Island where the crop could lead to nitrogen leaching being reduced by an average of 60 percent.
The dairy sector is also part of the Good Farming Practice Action Plan for Water Quality – a cross-sector commitment to achieve swimmable rivers and improve ecological health of waterways through widespread adoption of good farming practices.
The Sustainable Dairying: Water Accord is the dairy sector’s commitment to improve environmental performance of dairy farms. It reports on farm progress of riparian planting, effluent management, conversions, water use efficiency and nutrient management. More than 27,000km of waterways have been fenced off.
Certification schemes in place ensure rural professionals are providing the highest standards of advice and services to farmers – these include the Effluent WOF scheme, Dairy Effluent Design Accreditation, Nutrient Management Advisor Certification Programme and irrigation training programmes.
DairyNZ is providing financial and in-kind support across a range of irrigation best practice and certification schemes. These include the Irrigation Insight programme which is focused on developing knowledge, tools and the confidence to dairy farmers for better irrigation management and precision to apply the water needed – where, when and how much.
Two Sustainable Farming Fund projects support farmers and catchments with irrigation, SMART Tools and Tips, is aimed at helping irrigators achieve Irrigation Good Farming Practice. The Building Trust project provides information at the catchment level to demonstrate farmer/grower uptake of good farm practice over time, alongside progress towards water quality outcomes.
Reducing greenhouse gases is part of the Dairy Tomorrow strategy as a key commitment for dairy.
Dairy is leading efforts on agriculture’s contribution to meeting New Zealand’s climate change goals by identifying and implementing strategies to reduce or offset greenhouse gas emissions from dairy farming.
Through the Dairy Action for Climate Change commitment, DairyNZ has begun a foundation to support farmers with on-farm changes to address their emissions.
DairyNZ has undertaken 20 farmer and rural professional climate change workshops and additional farmer discussion groups; funded 60 rural professionals to be trained in greenhouse gas emissions and 12 leading climate change ambassadors now build awareness among farmers.
Work underway shows opportunities are available to reduce emissions through good farm management practices. For example, 12 farms recently took part in the Partnership Farm Project, modelling 44 farm systems. It identified that every farm requires a different solution but the 44 systems will show farmers the options available.