OPINION: On the cusp of the new year, I’ve been thinking about the year gone and what’s head of us.
Having been involved in the dairy sector my whole life, it’s clear that it’s changed significantly since I was a kid. And in the past year, there have been a number of key challenges, whether it’s the talk about nitrogen – both from effluent or the manufactured variety – to help our grass or vegetables grow, our impacts and work to improve water quality or the growing conversation around climate change. And let’s not forget the emergence of new threats, like Mycoplasma bovis.
Here’s the thing about farming. The fundamentals are still the same – looking after cows, grass and people. But when I think back to the challenges my parents faced, the big issues for them seemed to be getting their cows in-calf, fluctuating prices, managing debt and high interest rates.
Fast forward to today and dairy farmers have shown they’re committed to looking after the land and waterways through their work in the Sustainable Dairying: Water Accord. Ninety-seven per cent of farmers have fenced off their waterways, thousands have carried out riparian planting and many have protected or restored wetlands, invested in efficient irrigation systems and improved their fertiliser practices. And that’s just the start of the work.
As an industry good body, DairyNZ is supporting farmers in this journey through investing their levy into researching innovative ways they can reduce their environmental footprint, while at the same time remaining profitable.
Thanks to research, such as the Forages for Reduced Nitrogen Leaching (FRNL) programme, some farmers are already achieving this. Three of the five dairy monitor farms involved in the project have reduced nitrate leaching by 12 to 31 per cent in the first three years of the programme through reducing nitrogen fertiliser use and using plantain in pasture and crops such as fodder beet and oats. And others are following suit.
Many dairy farmers are adapting their farm systems to manage their fertiliser use and make the most of all nutrients in their pastures. A lot of farmers target fertiliser application to help manage seasonal pasture shortfalls. Fertiliser is important to keep pasture growing, just like it is for growing the vegetables we eat, but research and changes being made by farmers are managing its application.
Then there’s the work we’ve been doing to help improve cow genetics. We’re focused on helping farmers breed better, more productive cows. By improving the genetics of their herd, many farmers are producing more milk with fewer cows. We continue to build on this work to provide farmers with new solutions and help them continue to be the best and most sustainable in the world.
DairyNZ has a vision for the future, outlined in our shared sector strategy Dairy Tomorrow. The first of six commitments is protecting and nurturing the environment for future generations. In 2018/19, DairyNZ is investing many millions of dollars in this commitment alone.
And our vision is clear, we want all farmers to be doing their bit to look after waterways, and by doing so we start a movement in New Zealand to encourage all Kiwis to get on board and help look after their local waterway, too.
And we absolutely know that there is a significant place in New Zealand’s future for the dairy sector and the wholesome food we produce. For the passionate people that work with animals and the land every day and for those that are just starting their careers with dairy – just think what dairy will be like in 20-years.
We believe we have something special here in New Zealand. Something that every Kiwi can be proud of when they drink that glass of milk, or enjoy an ice cream on the beach.
I’m a firm believer in the saying that to understand where we’re going, you need to know where you’ve come from. When I look back, even to when I first joined DairyNZ in 2007, I’m proud of how far the sector has come in a relatively short time, and look forward to seeing what we achieve in the near future – and believe me, it’s going to be impressive.
Tim Mackle is the chief executive officer of DairyNZ