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Dairy farmers ready to implement water quality standards

Dairy farmers ready to take action to implement water quality standards

Dairy farmers are up for the challenge of working with local communities to fix local water quality problems and deliver on the Government’s new national water quality standards.

“DairyNZ will implement these new standards with farmers. We have a firm commitment from the industry and from our farmers on that front. Where there’s an agreed problem that needs fixing, we’ll get in there and do our bit,” says DairyNZ’s strategy and investment leader for sustainability, Dr Rick Pridmore.

“The dairy industry supports farming to environmental limits to solve identified water quality problems. We’re already doing that kind of work across the country with farmers and councils in 15 priority areas. We also spend more than $11 million a year of dairy farmers’ levy money on environmental initiatives including local water quality studies and supporting farmers to take action to fix issues.”

Dr Pridmore says the key challenge with the new national standards will be applying them at a local level. “We’re going to need clever solutions that fix problems in a way that keep farmers in business and deliver what communities decide they want for their local waterways. This will be about collective action by dairy farmers but it’s also going to involve a lot of work by councils, community groups, environmentalists, other farming sectors and scientists.”

He says a single focus on dairy farming isn’t the answer. “There will always be a range of factors affecting water quality. You need to have everyone in the tent looking at what they can do to help.

“The best thing about the Government’s new standards is that they are the result of more than 60 scientists working together. There are still gaps in the system and we support further science to fill those gaps as soon as possible. But it’s a great achievement to have the collective scientific fraternity behind this. You need that kind of buy-in if you are going to make this work.

“We’ve really got to make sure we implement these standards well. Our country’s prosperity depends upon it and so does the future of a lot of dairy farmers and the communities, towns and the local economies that they support.

“We all have a stake in this – and if we do it right, we can still manage to sustainably grow dairy farming. There will be some areas where a ‘no grow’ or ‘slow grow’ approach will be needed until we can build sufficient headroom for more development.”

Examples of DairyNZ-supported projects that are already implementing farming to environmental limits and standards to fix water quality problems.

Rotorua Lakes

“Rotorua is now enjoying its best water quality since the 1960s. For many years, the public debate about Rotorua focused on how quickly we could get rid of the dairy farms. The science suggested that we could get results by aggressively tackling phosphorus and committing to a long-term process for reducing nitrogen loads, which is exactly what has played out.

“We have a long process ahead of us, but increased willingness to consider the scientific facts from other sectors of the community has meant that we now have a farming community that is committed to making this a permanent change for the better. This shows what can be achieved by a community working together towards a shared goal,” says Dr Rick Pridmore.

Waituna Lagoon, Southland

In 2011, the lagoon made headlines for declining water quality and the need to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus loading. Since then, the catchment’s 48 dairy farmers have reduced their farms’ effects.

DairyNZ water quality specialist Dr David Burger says more recently, the focus has been on science.

‘Our current work is focused on improving the scientific understanding of the catchment and identifying and testing potential management solutions to reduce loads at the catchment-scale’ says David.

“Management of the catchment is complicated by differences in soil types, high land use intensity and need for lagoon water level management.

“This year, we’ve been looking at 11 key aspects – from understanding nutrient loss processes and modelling nutrient loads, to a wetland study.”

A catchment model is being developed to help quantify the total nutrient footprint. “This helps evaluate the collective impact of different mitigation strategies.”

The science and economic analysis, finishing now, will help feed into a catchment-wide action plan where water quality meets community expectations, while keeping farm businesses viable.

Upper Waikato Sustainable Milk Project

Up to 700 dairy farmers are helping improve the Waikato River’s water quality in a multi-million dollar project.

Through the Upper Waikato Sustainable Milk Project, dairy farmers between the Huka Falls (Taupo) and Karapiro (Cambridge) are ticking off actions which contribute to better water quality.

More than $2 million is being spent on the DairyNZ-led project, with co-funding from the Waikato River Authority and the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Transforming the Dairy Value Chain Primary Growth Partnership programme. It involves farmers volunteering for Sustainable Milk Plans with tasks to complete. At June, 650 farmers had committed to the project and 510 farms had a Sustainable Milk Plan.

DairyNZ project leader, Adrian Brocksopp, says farmers initially work with a consultant to update their nutrient budget. “For many, it might mean increasing their effluent spreading area or being more water-efficient,” says Adrian.

While water quality is generally good, there are some issues emerging with increasing nitrogen, sediment and phosphorus levels. A farmer group providing input into a collaborative stakeholder group will decide on nutrient and water limits by November 2015.

Horizons One Plan

DairyNZ project manager Geoff Taylor says the Horizons One Plan requires all 430 dairy farmers in affected catchments to apply for resource consent.

“Farmers will have to reduce nitrogen (N) leaching, but there will be no actions that impact on production or profitability,” says Geoff. “The consent process involves establishing each farm’s baseline for N leaching, then a nutrient management plan.”

DairyNZ has 10 consultants helping farmers complete consent applications and some farmers are already achieving 15% reductions in leaching at the farm level.

“Whoever prepares the consent must have an Advanced Nutrient Management Certificate, but it’s also important they understand farm systems, because reducing N changes farm management.

“We want achievable farmer actions that will make a difference to water quality, without putting farms out of business or impacting the regional economy,” says Geoff.


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