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Farmers Make Progress on Environmental Protection

Wednesday 3 November 2004

Dairy Farmers Make Good Progress on Environmental Protection

The dairy industry funding agency, Dairy InSight, said today that most farmers are very conscious of their role as custodians of the environment and a great deal is being done by them and their industry to manage environmental impacts.

Dairy InSight Chief Executive, Peter Bodeker, said that dairy farmers were funding a great deal of research and technology transfer into farming systems to protect the environment as well as spending money on their own farms on environmental protection.

Dairy InSight’s investment in environmental research during the current year is nearly $2 million,” said Mr Bodeker.

Mr Bodeker was commenting on the report “Growing for Good” by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Morgan Williams, on the environmental impacts of agriculture.

“As a general principle nobody could argue with the concept of sustainable farming,” Mr Bodeker said. “We just need to agree what ‘sustainable’ means in terms of water and soil protection and I don’t think there is agreement on that yet.”

Mr Bodeker said the dairy industry is still New Zealand’s economic powerhouse on the world stage.

“It is New Zealand’s trump card in the global economy and we should be careful about tying it down with regulations.”

“The industry recognises the problem and is doing a great deal in the development of environmental management systems. We will get there,” he said.

The dairy industry has been proactive in identifying the environmental impacts and looking for solutions Mr Bodeker said.

“We fully accept there are issues that need to be addressed but they must be ones that enable farmers to stay in business.”

The industry has developed an Environment Management System, ‘Market Focused’, which identifies environmental issues on the farm and helps farmers to identify the actions they need to take.

The dairy industry is now focusing much more on nutrient management uptake.

“One of our research partners, Dexcel, is currently working through a project related to uptake of nutrient budgeting amongst farmers,” Mr Bodeker said. “While farmers have done well with stream crossings and fencing streams they have not been as active with nutrient management.” Mr Bodeker said he noted that the Department of Conservation has just given an environmental award to the country’s biggest dairy farmer, Landcorp. That award was for the environmentally sustainable way Landcorp had set up farms in Westland.

“The new farms had been specifically designed to ensure waterways were protected from effluent and nitrate leaching.”

Mr Bodeker said that Fonterra’s Clean Streams Accord with Regional and Central Government was a good start to ensure that streams and waterways are protected. However the impact of animal excretions and fertiliser on groundwater are still being discovered.

“Leading farmers are adopting new systems and new technologies now to limit their impact on the environment and they will set the standard,” he said. “We also need time to develop and test the new systems that are currently being researched because some will clearly be more cost-effective than others.”

“We are funding our own industry studies into the impact of dairying in a number of catchments throughout the country and this will give us much better information to work with – since the environmental impact varies from location to location and soil type to soil type.”
Farming practices that are now becoming viable to manage the environmental impacts of dairy farming are the use of “herd homes”, nitrogen inhibitors and advanced effluent treatment systems. As more farmers adopt nutrient budgeting for their farms so they can monitor and manage the losses. The software systems for that are now being developed.

“These are all in addition to the bridges, tunnels and plantings that are being completed on dairy farms throughout the country to protect our open waterways from stock.”

“Our role must be to develop systems and technologies which help farmers to manage their businesses profitably,” Mr Bodeker said. “For example good use of nutrient budgeting may help farmers to reduce their fertiliser costs while also contributing to better environmental practice.”

He said this is not an issue that can be dealt with and resolved in one year.

“I can give an assurance that environmental research and development is a priority for the industry to ensure that dairy farmers can continue to increase their productivity while preserving our natural resources.”

ENDS

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