Dairy Environment Leader Tracy Brown

June 2018

Dairy farmer Tracy Brown and the Dairy Environment Leaders Programme

Tracy Brown is a busy woman –  the DairyNZ Dairy Environment Leaders Forum Chairwoman is a Trustee for the DairyWoman’s Network, Chair of the Ballance Farm Environment Awards Alumni, a director of Te Rarawa Farming (in Northland) and a Trustee of two schools - all while stage managing four children, and helping run a 700 cow dairy farm with her husband Wynn.  She personifies a passion for the land, the environment and her broader community.

The Dairy Environment Leaders programme is an initiative that began in 2011.  It is a grassroots movement.  It’s about farmers reaching out to each other and their broader communities to achieve better outcomes for the environment and farming.  “The vision is for kaitiakitanga – stewardship for the future and to develop leaders in responsible dairying.”

Dairy Environment Leaders help others on their journey to create more environmentally sustainable farms. They also connect and consult with stakeholders – such as regional councils, iwi and schools - in their community to understand their needs, view points and concerns, and also to work on the opportunities that exist.  These connections in turn lead to positive actions - from school farm visits to community clean ups at streams, group planting days and other initiatives to connect people with shared goals to protect and conserve our land while also ensuring healthy productivity for food, jobs and local economies.

Across different regions, Dairy Environment leaders have initiated and led consultation groups as well as taken part in collaborative stakeholder groups on water quality and limits. They also take part in an annual forum.  2018 is the fourth year Tracy has chaired the DEL Forum.

Tracy has a Bachelor of Agricultural Science (Hons) (Massey University) a post graduate Diploma in Management Studies (Waikato University) and is a Kelloggs Scholar (Lincoln University).  She and her husband Wynn run a 700 cow dairy farm in Matamata.  Prior to marrying Wynn, Tracy was an economist in the sheep and beef industry.  Tracy has been on the working group developing ‘Dairy Tomorrow’ the new dairy industry strategy and also sits on DELG (the Dairy Environment Leadership Group) which are the guardians of the Water Accord.  Tracy is also a Trustee for Matamata Intermediate School, St Pauls Collegiate and the Dairy Women’s Network and a director of Te Rarawa Farming.  Tracy describes herself as a ‘working volunteer’ as most of her roles are unpaid “industry good” roles but she believes she is helping create positive change that will benefit future generations.

Tracy and her husband Wynn run a 700 cow dairy farm near Matamata with her husband Wynn.  Tracy is one of 300 Dairy Environment Leaders working around New Zealand to upskill others and bring together communities and people, with a shared desire to farm sustainably and assure our natural environment thrives.

Tracy and Wynn started their journey as environment advocates around 25 years ago when they first began fencing off waterways and planting trees.  At this time Wynn was employed as a Manager and had just converted the property ‘Tiroroa’ that they now are equity owners in from sheep and beef, to dairy.

Tracy explains that like many farmers they have a deep love for the land and ‘the great outdoors’ – so taking care of their land was always important to them – “You have to farm for environment and production – getting the balance right is very important”.

“Fencing off waterways just made sense, you don’t want cows bogged in difficult to get to places”.  Wynn as a keen outdoors man was also keen to fence off stands of native bush to protect them.  Tracy, having grown up in Northland, has a love for the sea and water and is very aware of the need to protect our natural environment.  She is also keen to correct the perception that many farmers have been forced to be environmental leaders, as she points out many of her fellow DEL farmers were ‘early adopters’ – 90% of the waterways on Tiroroa were fenced off prior to the Clean Stream Accord.

The Browns have also retired 10 hectares of wetlands and another 10 hectares of trees on their farm – “We’re doing our bit to protect our beautiful Aotearoa”.  Five years ago they upgraded their effluent system. They have a gravity feed system where the effluent flows to a concrete drying pit, from here liquid flows down to the pond.  There are 2 concrete drying beds– while one is filling, the other is drying off. This dry solid matter is then spread across their crop paddocks every 6 months.  The recycling of the nutrients is not only reducing nutrient run off issues but it’s saving them around $5000 pa on fertiliser.

In 2010 Tracy and Wynn were Waikato Ballance Farm Environment Award Winners. Tracy laughs that they entered in the end to get the rural professionals who nominated them “off their back”.  When they won, there was the perception that they were unusual for dairy farmers – “I think people thought we were hippies”.  However she is pleased to see that there has been a huge turn around and people are now asking questions and starting their own journeys to excellence.

As a Dairy Environment Leader, Tracy sees regularly the importance of knowledge – “once people understand the issues they are easily motivated”.  Motivation is vital as some of the work is hard and expensive and all the practicalities have to be worked alongside your standard seasonal challenges.  For example, planting out large numbers of trees can be arduous especially for older farmers.  This is where Tracy says DEL can help as they can mobilise people to work together, such as school children or other interested groups.

Another aspect of DEL is that these farmers are heavily involved in is leading community consultation for water quality limits for the National Policy Statement.  In their own region, Tracy & Wynn are involved with the Piako Catchment Forum, which is about getting everyone together – iwi, farmers, council, teachers and other concerned community members.  Tracy points out that limits for the Piako catchment are yet to be set, “We wanted to start having these important conversations long before any limits are set – it affects so many people and communities, we have to get it right.”  Many DEL farmers around NZ are initiating and are involved in similar groups.

Tracy also hosts visiting groups to her and Wynn’s farm.  She says the beauty of the DEL initiative is that it encourages each leader to follow their own passions – to work to their individual skills and strengths.  Tracy also chairs the annual DEL Forum.  It is an annual event where the leaders come together to share knowledge and experience, connect with policy makers and agribusiness leaders, to upskill themselves as leaders and to evaluate their progress and set goals for their regional and national initiatives.  “We go away with an action plan”.

Outside her work for the DEL, Tracy is working to grow her knowledge around governance and iwi with work on a Māori trust board in Northland where she grew up.  She is enjoying improving her tikanga and reconnecting with her roots in an authentic environment.  She muses that her love for the land and deep connection with it might well have been passed down by her ancestors.