Sunday 1 April 2012

If Dairy Farmers want to FARM in the BLACK they Need to be GREEN

The NZ dairy industry is in a very interesting place right now. On one hand they generate serious export dollars; their contribution to the national income is undeniable. The wealth generated by dairy products means that most New Zealanders enjoy a good standard of living. On the other hand they are viewed by increasing numbers of thinking New Zealanders as exploiting our natural resources to the detriment of the environment. Sir Paul Callaghan spoke at the “StrategyNZ: Mapping our Future conference” in March 2011, pointing the finger at dairy farmers but also illustrating the economic reality. 
Dairy farmers have a real challenge: - to produce milk but to reduce the impact on the environment.    

Andrew, Jenny & Fred Hayes are NZ Landcare Trust Ambassadors. In 2005 they won the BFEA- Heritage Restoration Award on their dairy farm for their work around Lake Kaituna & Lake Komakorau. Lakeland Farms surround both of these Waikato peat lakes. Dairy Consultant Alison Dewes (Headlands) told the Waikato Balance Farm Environment Award Alumni Field day that the Hayes family farm system is strongly aligned to their values & beliefs to improve the environment in which they farm. They are aware of what impacts their farm has on the wider environment & they are open to new ideas & ways of thinking. Andrew & Jenny like to measure, assess & review their performance on a regular basis. They have formed a Lake Care Group & invited in many outside experts such as University of Waikato (Prof David Hamilton), water quality PhD student Bex Eivers, Environment Waikato & DairyNZ to help them improve & restore their peat lakes. Involving a wide range of outside people & other local farmers has brought together scientific & regional expertise & practical common sense.
I was particularly impressed with the work experienced Dairy Consultant Alison Dewes (Headlands), has brought to the farm.   
 Her work suggests that moderate stocking rates, close monitoring of inputs & costs can generate more profit when there is an environmental “push” & focus by the farmers. This is a seriously important message as many farmers believe that complying with environmental standards will in some way reduce their profitability. The Hayes farm is a shining example that their passion for a better lake environmental outcome has in fact improved many of their key production efficiencies & increased their profits. This year they expect to harvest 14.5 TDM/ha of pasture (which puts them in the top 5% of Waikato dairy farmers). The profit per ha is very high & means their Return on Assets (ROA) is over 9%. Over the last 8 years they have reduced nitrogen use from 180kgsN to 30kgsN/ha/yr. Nutrients are much better utilised & recycled with 90% of the farm is covered with farm effluent once a year & no fertilizer is brought onto the farm. So it can be done & the Hayes family are a very good example to all dairy farmers in NZ.
Prof David Hamilton explained to the field day that the Waikato Peat Lakes were formed 15-18,000yrs ago & are today biodiversity hotspots that have important functions of moderating extreme flood events & reducing nutrient flows into the river systems. The health of the lakes reflects the health of the landscapes. Relatively low cost on farm changes are considerably more affordable that major lower catchment mitigation which is prohibitively expensive. There are 94,000ha of peat soils in the Waikato with 80% developed into agriculture & horticulture. Developed peat soils are highly productive soils but there is a risk of them being over drained & lost to farming.
Andrew Hayes created a 16ha buffer zone around the peat lakes, which were badly silted & completely retired a further 2ha of land. Willows were removed & more suitable species planted in the buffer zone. On the 10 inflow drains silt traps were constructed. Bex Eivers PhD study is looking at the effectiveness of the silt traps. The work around the lake & the more water that is being retained in the lake has had a positive impact on the farm as the retention of moisture has helped to minimise the peat shrinkage & Andrew doesn’t have to cultivate the peat soils. A flatter milk production curve has resulted from more summer pasture growth. Andrew quite rightly credits what is happening in the soil & water as being vitally important & Consultant Alison Dewes (a key team member) focusses on pasture grazing management, profit & cost control. 
There is a saying "that YOU (farmers) can’t be GREEN if you are in the RED." Very true! However it is also a truth to say "that if YOU (farmers) want to be in the BLACK you must also be GREEN."

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