Monday, February 26, 2024

A quarter-century of care for the environment

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Rural professional Helen Moodie has spent 25 years in Northland conservation and consulting roles, helping farmers and other landowners with her knowledge and enthusiasm.
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In this year’s Land Champions edition, we celebrate domestic and imported people in agriculture, from the Italian clan that owns a slice of North Otago wool production to the teacher rebooting ag education in the hort heartland if western Bay of Plenty.

After contemplating both veterinary science and rural journalism, Northland’s treasured resource manager Helen Moodie found her calling in the land and water, and around farmhouse kitchen tables.

Born and raised on a steep hill-country sheep and beef farm at Whangaripo Valley, near Wellsford, Helen learnt all manner of farming tasks, including horse riding and shearing.

One of four daughters in the farm family, she attended Massey University for a Bachelor of Agricultural Science, with honours in soil fertility.

A decade as a land management officer for the Auckland Regional Council followed, advising on soil conservation and management of water resources.

She came back to Northland in 1997 to be the regional co-ordinator for NZ Landcare Trust, partly a platform for funding applications and organisation of farmer-led groups.

Three that stand out and have ongoing relevance are the Kikuyu Action Group, the Northland Totara Working Group and the NZ Clover Root Weevil Action Group.

Participating farmers and rural professionals delivered ground-breaking results for pasture and native tree productivity in the north, shepherded by Moodie’s enthusiasm.

Over 13 years she was also there for adverse events like floods or droughts, managing Task Force Green relief workers for the Rural Support Trust, of which she is now a Northland trustee and secretary.

While regions of NZ Landcare Trust elsewhere in NZ focused on catchment groups, the Northland community threw themselves into native bird conservation and pest trapping now under the Kiwi Coast umbrella, with over 200 groups managing around 250,000 hectares.

“People get excited by kiwi calling in their own backyards and the local kiwi recovery  groups have spread like wildfire through Northland.

“Farmer-owned, community-driven shows just what can be achieved – it is truly remarkable.”

Helen’s next professional move was to DairyNZ as a consulting officer and catchment engagement leader between 2010 and 2020.

“People get excited by kiwi calling in their own backyards and the local kiwi recovery groups have spread like wildfire through Northland.”

Helen Moodie

That period finished as the senior environmental change specialist looking after Dairy Environment Leaders and Climate Change Ambassadors and feeding into DairyNZ’s national policies.

“If you want to help dairy farmers navigate the maze of demands and regulations, you better know what effects your recommendations will have on the ground.

“Farmers attend events to learn from other farmers and so you need to facilitate a good discussion.” 

That approach has carried on to Sustainable Dairying Adviser (SDA) for Fonterra in Northland for the past three years, majoring on Farm Environment Plans (FEPs). 

As her CV says: “Empowering on-farm change one farm at a time.” 

Her territory extends around mid-Northland, including Titoki, Ruawai and Te Kōpuru, as the final 5% of FEPs are scoped and written.

“FEPs do have a formalised output but their value lies in the discussions with farmers through the journey,” she says.

“The work on farm already done is recognised, thanks to industry initiatives like the Clean Streams Accord.

“If farmers understand the problem they will solve it on their farm, but if you tell them what to do, they’ll resist.”

The next work stream will be on-farm emissions reduction through increasing efficiency per kilogram of milksolids.

“What are the top 10% of efficient farmers doing that can be applied on your farm?”

Increasing biodiversity is an area in which Northland can lead the country and its reputation overseas.

Friendliness and positivity are two of the character traits Helen brings to her job.

“And we have the luxury of one-on-one discussions, sitting around the table and sketching on bits of paper.

“Much of what they read and hear concerns them and then we talk it over and they often say ‘Thank you, that make me feel better about things’.”

Helen Moodie is married to Todd Hamilton, project manager for the Whangārei Heads Landcare Forum’s Backyard Kiwi work, channelling his passion for kiwi, trapping, and public relations on behalf of the local kiwi.

There has been a tenfold increase in kiwi in the Whangārei Head district, where Helen has been secretary of the WHLF since its beginning and is now chair.

They have two sons – Jack, aged 27, doing his PhD in estuarine ecology at Waikato University, and Bill, aged 24, who was this year’s National Trainee of the Year in the dairy industry awards.

Bill is farm assistant on Richard and Sharon Booth’s 395-cow, 174ha property at Titoki, Northland, employed by Andrew and Vicky Booth.

He holds a Bachelor of Agricultural Science from Massey University, following in his mother’s footsteps.

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