This year, hosted by Southland, the forum invited a select group of 54 dairy farmers, all winners of either dairy industry awards or farm environment awards around the country, to take part in the three day programme.
Forum independent chairman Putaruru dairy farmer Martin Bennett described the forum as an opportunity to expose the country’s leading dairy farmers to fresh, inspirational ideas, providing leadership skills training to help them realise their potential, encouraging them to help others in their community and empower leadership in their respective regions.
“All of these farmers are good farmers, they have proven that. The forum was about the bigger picture. Every farmer is a piece in the big jigsaw of the wider picture and environment and we need to get all the pieces filling their space,” Bennett said.
The key finding of the forum, which took in farming and regional councils’ perspective as well as the National Policy Statement on Freshwater and its effect on dairying, was collaboration between all parties. “The goals are all similar.”
The Building Environmental Leaders Network Forum required the participants to share their thoughts on how the dairy industry would shape its response to sustainability challenges.
“It’s all about the industry identifying the challenges and we all well know what they are. What we need to do is arm farmers with ways to cope with the challenges, accepting the challenges and having the ways to move the industry forward to stay profitable.”
The DairyNZ-funded forum focused on the dairy industry delivering on its strategy to ensure sustainable dairy farming.
“Each year the programme takes people who have come through competitions in the industry. We embrace their achievements and help them untangle complex sustainability challenges so they understand how they fit into the big picture.”
The forum looked at how to ensure the bottom 10% of farmers could make progress towards compliance, as well as how important goals could be met by 2020. Some compliance recommendations included having straight-forward guidelines that were easy to understand and associating a certain level of prestige with farmers “tagged” as 100% compliant.
This is the sixth year of the forum, run by the New Zealand Farm Environment Trust in partnership with DairyNZ. A total of 239 farmers have now been involved in workshop sessions on sustainability challenges and leadership skills as a result.
“We have to change as fast as we can, but at a pace that lets us adjust our businesses so we can survive change and prosper for the good of our communities and NZ. We can’t have wholesale changes overnight as they’ll bankrupt farmers and communities will feel the effect of lost businesses. We need to be financially viable to make changes.”
Speakers included economic commentator Bernard Hickey, Environment Canterbury Commissioners chairperson Dame Margaret Bazley and her deputy David Caygill, Kevin Hackwell of Forest and Bird, Environment Southland chairperson Ali Timms and DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle.
“It’s not every day that farmers get the chance to discuss complex industry issues around sustainability with people like this. Collaboration is the key, farmers and environmental and regulatory leaders need to work together to achieve sustainable dairying,” Bennett said.