Thursday, July 7, 2022

Measuring the effect of change

The largest ever catchment-based environmental project undertaken in the dairy industry aims to improve water quality in Waikato River so farmers will be ahead of policy makers. The Upper Waikato Sustainable Milk Project, co-funded by DairyNZ, Government and the Waikato River Authority, will focus on engaging with 700 dairy farmers to work towards reducing nutrient and sediment loads in the upper Karapiro catchment and to encourage more efficient water use on dairy farms.

Information from the project will be used during discussions on the development of Waikato Regional Council’s (WRC) “Healthy Rivers: Plan for Change” which is required by the national policy statement for freshwater management. It will also give effect to the vision and strategy for the Waikato River agreed between the Crown and river iwi.

DairyNZ wants to ensure that farmer commitments to minimising environmental impacts are recognised by those writing the regional plan, with its catchment engagement leader Adrian Brocksopp also being project manager for the Upper Waikato Sustainable Milk Project.  

Born and raised on an English dairy farm, he came to New Zealand for a month’s holiday and decided to stay. After two years agricultural contracting he worked for Ballance Agri-nutrients for eight. In his new role, his focus will still be nutrient management and working closely with farmers to put in place changes on-farm.

The Upper Waikato Sustainable Milk Project would be key to gathering information on what good practice environment initiatives farmers have already undertaken and what they plan to do, he said.  

“A lot has been made of what’s happened with the Horizons One Plan and we don’t want that to happen here – or anywhere really. We’ve got a brilliant opportunity to go out and encourage some change and be ahead of the eight ball.”

DairyNZ environment policy manager Dr Mike Scarsbrook said the dairy industry had to do a better job at quantifying the great work farmers have done and are doing.
“In three years time WRC will have a good picture of where they want future policy to be going and all the information we are collecting, we will be able to contribute to the policy debate.”

DairyNZ has contracted 35 consultants to visit all 700 farmers one-on-one to carry out a free auditable DairyNZ Sustainable Milk Plan, to be tailored to each individual farm. The consultants will record what changes farmers have already made in nutrient, effluent, water and land management as well as water use. They will then be available to give free advice on voluntary actions and initiatives farmers can take to further improve their environmental performance.

No individual farm data will be published, rather it will be used collectively to show what changes are being made in the catchment.

“If every farmer does one or two things it’s a significant change that we’re able to measure the effect,” said Brocksopp.

“One farmer saying they’ve increased their effluent area by 1ha doesn’t sound very much. But if we can get an area of 1500ha collectively across the whole catchment, they’re some really good figures.”

Those figures can then be modelled so estimates can be made of  the reduction in nutrients and sediments going into the river, and what effect it will have on improving water quality.

The project has the support of Fonterra, Miraka and Open Country dairy companies.

WRC integrated catchment management coordinator Ross Abercrombie told Waikato Federated Farmers Dairy meeting in February  its main objectives under the new plan were to ensure a vibrant regional economy and to restore and protect river health.

“As we move down the river we see that the catchment is largely agricultural and that’s where our economic prosperity for the region comes from,” he said.

“We do need to look after it and ensure ongoing wealth through that industry sector.”

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