Dairy farmers are focused on doing their bit to improve water quality in New Zealand and have made measurable progress in their environmental performance.
DairyNZ’s environment policy manager, Dr Mike Scarsbrook, says the dairy industry is pleased to see a new State of the Environment report being released today to fill the vacuum for robust and independent national reporting.
“Dairying is very much taking the lead in protecting the rural environment as seen in many improving trends, but there is more to do. The report shows that it’s not just about dairy farming. It’s also about other sectors and also how our urban lifestyles are affecting our environment too. We all need to work together on this,” he says.
“It’s in everyone’s interest to have a single and common set of independent and robust data to measure progress. Like everyone else, farmers are keen to see if their significant investments to manage water quality are making a difference to their communities,” he says. “It’s important we continue to track progress, improving and learning what works or doesn’t. As more rules and regulations are set and affect farmers, we will want to know if the environment is benefitting.”
Dr Scarsbrook says that since the last State of Environment report over eight years ago, dairy farmers have taken a lot of voluntary actions on farms to reduce dairying’s footprint.
“For example, two years ago we launched a new Water Accord covering all dairy farmers. Dairy companies have reported on nearly 24,000 kilometres of waterways, that’s 94 percent, from which all stock are now excluded. This report released today has identified a 14 percent improvement in water clarity since 1989 linked to stock exclusion, which keeps sediment out of waterways by protecting banks and beds from collapse.
“Improvements will now continue at pace as more of the ‘exclusion’ effect is felt. With dairy farms now also managing soil structure and runoff to waterways with grass filters and plantings, we can also expect considerable further improvement to nutrient concentrations, algae and biodiversity. More robust and regular reporting on all our Water Accord commitments is allowing the dairy industry to focus support where it is needed most urgently.
“The rate of significant non-compliance for farm dairy effluent systems for the 2013/14 season was 7 percent, down almost half on 2012. While we are still confirming the numbers for the 2014/15 season, this trend is continuing to improve,” he says.
“Farmers have made big investments in environmental initiatives themselves and through the $13 million each year of DairyNZ investments that include 15 large waterway projects nationwide, the Waikato Wetlands Showcase and delivering hundreds of Sustainable Milk Plans direct to farmers alongside regional council initiatives. We are also doing research into mitigating soil compaction.
“Our surveys show that farmers themselves have also put their money into our environment. More than $1 billion over the past five years has been spent by farmers in effluent systems, riparian planting and retiring sensitive land. That equates to $90,000 by each dairy business throughout New Zealand,” he says.
Dr Scarsbrook says robust and independent monitoring of the implementation of more than 600 Sustainable Milk Plans in the Upper Waikato alone are generating marked reductions and positive results in nutrient loss to waterways.
“We are not waiting for rules to be put in place – farmers have taken thousands of on-farm actions in the Upper Waikato and across the country. We are all about farming responsibly and putting the right practices in the right places for the long term – that means we are learning all the time about what works best and trying to perform even better.”
The dairy industry is currently evolving, he says. “We are changing to new farming techniques and systems with a lower environmental footprint while ensuring the country, and particularly rural towns and communities, can continue to benefit from farmers remaining competitive and profitable.
“Nutrient management is our next big challenge and we’re working with councils to ensure rules are put in place that reflect local community aspirations for water use and quality,” says Dr Scarsbrook.
DairyNZ is the industry organisation representing New Zealand’s dairy farmers. Our purpose is to secure and enhance the profitability, sustainability and competitiveness of New Zealand dairy farming. For more information, visit www.dairynz.co.nz or www.dairyatwork.co.nz