Thursday, April 25, 2024

Better farming for a better future

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A summit organised by the Wai Kōkopu catchment will share insights with and from progressive farmers.
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This month, catchment and farming leaders from across New Zealand will be participating in a first-of-its-kind agricultural summit in Tauranga to share insights into work being undertaken around the country, and to hear from leaders of change in the field. 

Keynote speaker at the Our Choice: Better Farming, Better Business, Better Future summit will be Dr Tanira Kingi, Emeritus Scientist at the Scion Crown Research Institute, and a director of Pāmu. He will outline the scope of the problem we face and why there needs to be change. 

The summit has been organised by the Wai Kōkopu catchment project, which I worked on for two and a half years alongside 15 Bay of Plenty farmers, exploring innovative approaches to transition to lower footprint systems. 

The initiative, funded through the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Jobs for Nature fund, was part of an ongoing community-led programme to improve the health of the heavily impacted little Waihi Estuary at Pukehina on the Bay of Plenty coast. 

In addition to farming in the Bay of Plenty, I am an adviser on sustainable agriculture and have been lucky enough to be working alongside leading farmers willing to share their numbers and their stories of change.

Following the completion of this part of the Wai Kōkopu initiative, I have been reflecting on the obstacles and challenges facing catchment groups and the successes they are achieving for freshwater environments.

I have seen first-hand the urgent need to change faster in our local communities to protect our precious freshwater, but at the same time, there are barriers to change. 

Regulation is one lever, but it’s not getting results fast enough. 

What works and what doesn’t? What are the important lessons we can take from the mix of work I have been involved with in Upper Waikato, Upper Waipa, Waikato Peat Lakes and most recently, coastal Bay of Plenty (Pukehina, Waiotahe and Te Mania Catchments)? 

In Focus Podcast: Bryan chats with Alison Dewes, a fourth generation dairy farmer and second generation vet from Bay of Plenty. She’s involved in a successful catchment group there and is an advocate for ground-up solutions to our environmental challenges and she tells me what she’s learned while helping lead a catchment group.

The coastal Bay of Plenty project at Pukehina is just one example of good work being done by catchment groups led by local farmers. To cite just some of its outcomes: it resulted in the retirement and restoration of over 230 hectares of land from pasture into natives or exotic forest, and by the end of 2024, will have planted over 250,000 native trees. 

A new pan-sector digital farm planning tool was developed, 1200 water samples monitored, and 40 pastoral farmers established their GHG, N Loss and P Loss numbers to assist them with change. This helped demonstrate how leading farmers can reduce contaminant loads while still remaining profitable and resilient. 

The importance of a passionate community group is also made clear in The Unseen, a new short documentary that outlines the threat nitrate leaching poses to Te Waikoropupū Springs in Golden Bay. 

The film showcases how local iwi and the community, both deeply connected to their water, had to get a Water Conservation Order in place to ensure the council exercised its duty to prevent further decline.

These springs were under threat from a doubling of nitrate over a 25-year period. The clearest water in the southern hemisphere was being threatened from nutrient enrichment. I recommend watching the film on YouTube.

The 12 dairy farmers who farm in the Waikoropupū Springs catchment are now working alongside the local council and Fonterra to remove excess nitrogen and contaminant losses from their farms. The nitrates, combined with factors such as high rainfall, leaky soils, irrigation and winter grazing, all contributed to 90% of the elevated nitrate reaching the springs. 

New Zealand has progressive farmers who are already working well ahead of the curve, with thoughtful and well-planned farm systems and approaches. 

Catchment leaders from around the country are also now working together, with the goal of becoming a strong collective voice on behalf of these progressive farmers.

They’re hoping the new coalition government is aware of the good work that was started with the Jobs for Nature funding in 2020-2021. 

There is a clear need to equip more of these visionary and technically competent farmers to feel safe to take a lead in their localities, supported by good science, to empower regional communities to bring everyone onto the same page. 

We need to take really decisive, effective steps to recognise and reward farmers for good practice and to inspire and motivate more farmers to get involved.

These are all issues that will be considered at the highly interactive summit next month. Speakers, many of whom are farmers, include agribusiness leaders and practitioners in the fields of aquatic and indigenous ecosystems, forestry, sustainable finance, the dairy industry and veterinary science.

As well as looking at why there needs to be change, we will look at how that change can be brought about while ensuring farm businesses are resilient. We’ll discuss lower footprint and nature-positive farming, where animals fit into the system, and we’ll also consider the risks of doing nothing. 

We’ll be brainstorming alongside our new parliamentarians in working groups, finding ways to inspire and innovate to get everyone on the same page, and sharing ideas on how we develop a positive and hopeful vision for NZ agriculture in 2030. 

• The Our Choice: Better Farming, Better Business, Better Future Agri Summit will take place on March 13 at Baypark Stadium Lounge, 9.30am-4.30pm.

Tickets $15 from Eventbrite.

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