Through Step Change, DairyNZ, with other sector organisations, will deliver information, resources and support to help you lift profit while contributing to better water quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

This includes sharing information from projects where farmers have already achieved these gains as well as access to tailored science-based solutions.

Why now?

Dairy farming is constantly evolving.  Current drivers for change include:

  • a drive to meet sustainability goals and responsible resource management.
  • national and regional policy standards – in particular those that cover climate change and fresh water.
  • we are world leading farmers in sustainability, and we want to maintain our international position.
  • Meeting consumer expectations.

Know your numbers

As a starting point, understanding four key numbers will help provide clarity on where the opportunities might lie in your business and how you compare. Those are:

  • Operating profit per hectare
  • Debt to asset ratio
  • Tonnes of methane emissions per hectare
  • Purchased N surplus per hectare.

Next steps

Depending on where the opportunities are in your business there will be a number of areas you might choose to focus on.

  • Pasture first is key – growing and harvesting home-grown feed well is the fundamental building block of farm profit. It results in reducing unprofitable feed which increases profit and reduces GHG and N surplus.
  • Methane output is highly correlated with feed eaten, and methane is the major part of dairy farming greenhouse gas footprint.
  • N leaching is highly correlated with purchased N surplus for an individual farm as it is the amount of nitrous oxide produced (a secondary greenhouse gas). 
  • Retiring unprofitable or marginal land directly reduces GHG and sequesters carbon.
  • Reducing phosphorus, sediment and pathogen loss can be achieved profitably. See Land management.

If you want to know more about how to start or continue the Step Change journey contact us.

Lessons in reducing nitrogen losses

Due to targets set by Canterbury Regional Council farmers in Selwyn and Hinds have had to look at ways to reduce nitrogen losses. Since 2018, 50 dairy farms in those catchments have been taking part in a five-year DairyNZ project that is influencing change on hundreds of farms in the region.

Along with the 50 partner farms, 210 dairy operations (out of 460) in both the Selwyn and Hinds catchments have been surveyed, and almost all have adapted their farming practices.

We are using lessons learnt through Selwyn Hinds in the Step Change project.

You can learn more about what they did to reduce N losses.

Questions and answers

How can we implement change if the policies are not set yet?

  • We want to continue to be the world’s most sustainable dairy farmers. We know the direction we’re going in and we know enough to get started. We want to get ahead of the game, we need to show the country we care, and we can do this.
  • We know it’s important to lift profit. More profitable farm businesses have choices to manage their future and are more internationally competitive. But we need to do this at the same time as decreasing our environmental footprint.
  • The government has set a target to reduce biological methane by 10% by 2030. Ruminants are 89% of this methane (the rest is from landfills). There’s still detail to be worked out, but right now, we’re assuming that the pastoral sector has to achieve a 10% reduction in total methane output by 2030, so making a start on this in ways that add to profit will help us meet these targets.
  • The Government’s Freshwater regulations were announced in late 2020. Farmers are required to have a farm environment plan with good farm practice actions to address local water quality risks. The dairy sector is already committed to all farms having farm environmental plans by 2025.
  • Farmers in high priority catchments will have to reduce N leaching over time. Many catchments where N is a problem already have plans in place, for example Selwyn and Hinds in Canterbury, and the Tararua District.

Will this mean less milk produced by the sector?

Very likely unless there is a technical innovation (such as feed additives or a methane vaccine) widely available before 2030.

Why should we change when we are already one of the most sustainable milk producers in the world?

The government has set a target of 10% reduction in methane by 2030. This is an absolute, not intensity-based target so we still need to reduce our total methane output

What extra value will we get from our milk for reducing our environmental footprint?

  • There is no set value, but if we don’t make these changes, we will increase the likelihood of getting less for our milk over time.
  • The need to reduce GHG is a global requirement. Most countries are working out how to do this. Our opportunity is to hold the line or reduce our cost of production and our footprint, maintaining our competitive position relative to other countries.
  • We need to do our bit to contribute to the overall quality of waterways in our country and maintain our social license.

Page last updated:

1 Sep 2023