Being a responsible dairy farmer means more than just being industry role models to Nick and Nicky Dawson.
It involves working beyond the farm bubble in the wider community and nurturing the health of people, the environment and their animals.
“It’s all interconnected,” Nicky says.
“It’s like a three-legged stool. You can’t have one without the other.”
Nick hopes that by leading by example, reflecting good practices and being a mentor will encourage others to follow their example and do what’s right for the animals and for the land. “We’re been looked at from every angle these days and I think we have to be on guard and front foot it,” he said.
Nick chairs the local Bovine Tb committee run by Ospri and has a role in local government.
They also periodically have school groups out on the farm for education and career days.
Their efforts have been recognised when they were named as this year’s Fonterra Responsible Dairying Award winners during the New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards on Saturday night and received the John Wilson Memorial Trophy.
The award was introduced by the New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards and Fonterra to recognise dairy farmers who demonstrate leadership in their approach to sustainability and who are respected by their fellow farmers and their community for their attitude and role in sustainable dairying.
The Dawsons farm is in Patoka, inland from Napier and just south of the main highway connecting Taupō to Hawke’s Bay.
They progressed through the dairy industry ranks to 50:50 sharemilkers before shifting to an equity partnership. Last year they bought their farm outright.
They run a 220 hectare farm that has 180 effective hectares, having taken out 30ha for riparian planting and a 6ha block at the end of the farm.
That block is the last sediment trap water has before it leaves their farm and goes to neighboring farms.
It contains a creek, wetlands and native trees which they had planted themselves.
The Dawsons have reduced their stocking rate to 2.5 cows/ha, direct drill all of their crops rather than tillage to protect the soil.
“These children don’t even know what a cow is. They love it,” he said.
They also get positive reactions from parents too.
“A lot of them say, wow, you aren’t dirty dairy farmers after all,” he said.
Nick says that moment when the parents or the students get that understanding of how the industry operates is the most fulfilling.
“It’s the moment that gives me the most pleasure, dismantling those myths that have been thrown down their throats for so long by these almost scaremongers and seeing these myths being dispelled,” Nick said.
“Kids these days don’t have a connection to farms so it’s really important that we make that connection for them, they really enjoy it. The eyes light up … They can’t believe that’s where their milk comes from,” he enthuses.
Nicky says the covid-19 lockdown revealed that farmers were essential workers and saw a lot of the negativity seen within the sector reduced.
“There was a realisation that they’re actually doing some good in the community and are vital as a food source.”
Looking ahead, Nick says he would like to see less competition among food manufactures in NZ and instead focus on exporting the best valued product overseas.
“Why do we need this competition in NZ? We’re manufacturing one product. We need to make the produce cheaper for New Zealanders, get NZ behind us and export because we are an exporting nation.”