Q: How can dairy farmers combat misinformation about what happens on dairy farms, especially when incorrect information is spread quickly via social media?
Answered by Lee Cowan, senior engagement and communications manager
The best way to combat misinformation is to tell the real, accurate story about what happens on New Zealand dairy farms. You can do that by posting stories and photos on social media, or by inviting friends, family and other people to your farm. This is about showing non-farmers what it’s really like. You can also share your stories with local media outlets, or simply by talking to members of the community when you’re at a BBQ or watching a local sports match. At DairyNZ, we’re always looking for farmer stories as well, so please contact me at Lee.Cowan@dairynz.co.nz
When something inaccurate is posted online (Facebook, for example), there are many ways to deal with it. Ultimately though, it’ll make a big difference if people – farmers and non-farmers – jump online to point out the inaccuracy and bring some truth to the situation.
There’s a range of practical things dairy farmers can do to combat misinformation. DairyNZ has created two guides full of tips to help farmers tell their stories. You can download Social Media 101 at dairynz.co.nz/social-media and order a copy of Sharing your stories from firstname.lastname@example.org
Q: How do we deal with the challenges of synthetic milk and meat?
Answered by Andrew Fletcher, Dairy Tomorrow strategy implementation manager
Although there’s an increasing number of milk and meat substitutes hitting the market, there’s also a lack of scientific knowledge about their costs and benefits. How nutritious are they? What’s their overall environmental footprint? Without a decent body of science, it’s difficult for our sector to know exactly if and how we should adapt.
We’re keen to see greater public visibility of the full costs (including environmental) of these production systems so there can be a proper dialogue about their future role in nourishing the global population. Inside Dairy will revisit this topic in the future.
What we do know is that our dairy cows are incredibly efficient. They occupy land that’s not suitable for growing crops, and they turn something we can’t eat, grass, into nutritious milk. Their waste (effluent) can be returned to the land as a natural form of fertiliser. Synthetic milk and meat require a more complex process: growing a crop, harvesting it, processing it and disposing of the waste products.
Synthetic meat is produced in two ways: turning plant-based material into something ‘meat-like’; or growing animal muscle cells in the lab from material harvested from young animals. As with milk substitutes, there are still questions around the nutritional value of ‘plant-based’ meats, and the full costs of cell-cultured meat.
None of the synthetic options are likely to reduce the cost of food. Many of them are being funded by venture capitalists in America, and they’re doing it to make money.
Let’s keep our eyes and ears open to the facts about synthetic products, as they emerge, and be prepared to have robust conversations. For now, the best thing we can do is farm with excellence. We should strive to be as sustainable as possible, make use of our world-class pasture and produce high-quality milk.
Q: Why aren’t more farmers choosing to go once-a-day (OAD) milking for the entire season to combat the many issues facing our sector?
Answered by Paul Edwards, senior scientist
The most common reason for not trying OAD is fear of the unknown. It does require a leap of faith, but most farmers who shift to full-season OAD say they wouldn't go back.
To do OAD well, it’s not just a case of changing the number of milkings. You need to evaluate your whole system, and this requires effort and is not without risk.
Historically, the number of OAD herds in New Zealand has tracked at about five percent of herds. Our most recent statistics show that this jumped to nine percent in the 2015/16 season and stayed there in 2016/17. We’re also seeing significant regional variations: Northland has the most OAD herds (24 percent), while Canterbury has only four percent.
There’s also extensive use of OAD and three-in-two milking for part of the season, or for part of the herd. That means the number of twice-a-day (TAD) herds is at just over 50 percent, down from
70 percent in 2008/09. As understanding of these alternative systems increases, the trend away from TAD is likely to continue.
Note: starting in July, a DairyNZ-led research project will focus on the strategic use of milking three times in two days. The three-year project is funded by DairyNZ and the Sustainable Farming Fund. Find out more at dairynz.co.nz/3in2
Q: How can on-farm tree planting be registered as a carbon offset?
Answered by Tanya Cornwell, senior policy adviser
Carbon offset opportunities for dairying are not as great as other sectors because most of our land is under production. Therefore, dairy farmers may need to think of creative ways to make the system work for them, such as grouping together as a community or purchasing marginal land for tree planting. DairyNZ is also working with the Government on ways to recognise and promote tree planting that might be below the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) threshold, but still have beneficial outcomes for biodiversity, water quality, animal care, biosecurity or emissions offsets (e.g. riparian plantings).
Currently, the only way to register for carbon sequestration (the natural or artificial process by which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and held/stored in solid or liquid form) credits is with the ETS. To be eligible for registration, trees and forests must meet the criteria (see illustration below). The criteria exist around size, width of planting, density, height at maturity and when the trees were planted.
If these criteria are met, farmers can choose to register their eligible forest(s) in the ETS. They must then account for the change in carbon stock (how much carbon is stored) per forest by filing an Emissions Return at least once every five years. This is what determines sequestration credits are earned.
The ETS criteria and operations are complex. Farmers are encouraged to visit the MPI website for for further information, and contact Te Uru Ra-kau at email@example.com or phone 0800 254 628 for specific queries and/or advice.
Q: How can employers and employees start a new season (and possibly leave the old one) well?
Answered by Sarah Tait, people team developer
The start of a new season is your best time to set out workplace and team culture expectations with new staff, while also 'resetting' expectations with existing staff.
Inducting new staff can be a big job and we can't expect people to remember everything we tell them about complex operations. Having visual cues in the office and farm dairy will help with this. For example, photos and diagrams of procedures, and graphs measuring progress towards team goals.
Setting up a team group ‘chat’ (using an app like Messenger or WhatsApp) is also a great way to keep communication channels open for everyone from the get-go.
It’s important to remember that team members operate differently; what motivates one person might not work for another. We tend to assume other people think, act and value the same things as we do, and we can become frustrated when others fall short of our expectations. As an exercise for your team, try out a free online personality test. It’ll help you understand the differences in how each of you operates. It's a good idea to do it now, before the pressure and fatigue of spring sets in.
Get more tips on how to start a new season by going to dairynz.co.nz/people
This article was originally published in Inside Dairy May 2019