Healthy Rivers and Coastlines in Waikato

July 2016

James Bailey is working to improve water quality in Waikato Rivers and coastlines

James Bailey is the drystock representative on the Waikato Healthy Rivers Collaborative Stakeholder Group, a group helping to shape the new Waikato Regional Council policy for water quality in the region. If he has one message for farmers yet to start planning for new regulations, it’s ‘get started now!’

James is the fifth generation Bailey to farm Momona, a 470ha commercial Hereford stud, beef and sheep operation.

Momona is on rolling to steep country. It runs 170 hereford breeding cows, their calves and about six hereford sires. The farm also carries 3000 ewes. Two large dairy units are also in the mix. James manages the drystock operation and is very involved in developing whole farm plans and sustainable farming methods for all the farms.

James was never sure he wanted to farm. He spent his early working years outside of farming and travelling the world. While on his travels James did some volunteer work around the Galápagos Islands and was exposed to different environmental initiatives that got him thinking differently about the environment, and sparking his own interest in sustainable practice. With a friend he set up SUSTAINABLE COASTLINES, a charity that cares for Kiwi coastlines and waterways. James continues to work voluntarily for the charity – he is currently helping to project manage a local initiative with a marae growing native seedlings for riparian planting along their awa.

James returned to the farm filled with ideas for developing a more sustainable farm. He admits he was a little naïve when he returned and thought he’d “change the world by planting a whole lot of trees”. He credits his parents with allowing him the room to make mistakes before the realities of farming and cashflow began to set in and he realised he needed to look at the whole farm system.

For James the key to developing the farm has been through farm design – developing reticulated water to assure the stock has clean drinking water and to keep them out of waterways; and fencing the farm into land management units to better match stock class to land class, especially in the wetter months. Fencing off waterways and riparian planting is ongoing work. James is putting a lot of mānuka into the riparian plantings – hedging his bets with the growing demand for mānuka honey.

Intensive soil testing and taking into account a wider range of elements in the testing has helped him to reduce phosphorous use to well under conventional levels. They also do not apply any synthetic nitrogen, preferring to grow clover to fix their own.

10 hectares of native forest remnants have been fenced and put under QEII covenant with more blocks to be fenced and covenanted in the future.

James and his wife Ella, have also set up Momona Premium Beef – using a facebook page to sell heifer beef – an eighth, a quarter or half a beast – direct to the public. It’s a small scale enterprise but they’re excited to be able to offer guaranteed purebred Hereford meat and meet a market which wants to know where food comes from and wants to know it’s been farmed in a sutainable way.

James has worked with a representative from the Land Management office at the Waikato Regional Council and used The Beef+Lamb Land Environment Plan toolkit (LEP) to develop his environmental planning for the farm.

The LEP has been important in developing a whole farm planning approach. This approach looks at the whole system and how one change effects other factors including the structure and goals of the business itself. James strongly encourages this holistic approach to other farmers, especially when faced with the costs of upcoming water quality regulations in the Waikato/Waipa district and indeed across New Zealand. James is keen to get the message out to farmers to “get on the front foot, changes around water quality regulations are coming, so you need to start planning now”.

James acknowledges that environmental initiatives can cost a lot, they take a whack from the capital expenditure budget. He encourages others to use the LEP when looking at upcoming regulations, in order to assure they make the best possible investments for their land, their business and their bottom line.

James is also strong on the need for drystock farmers to come together to develop better efficencies around enviromental planning and meeting new regulations. “Whether we like it or not it’s coming, so let’s turn it into a positive and streamline the process and capitalise on the marketing opportunities”.

James is walking the walk too. He is the drystock representative on the Waikato Healthy Rivers Collaborative Stakeholder Group (CSG). The CSG is the central channel for stakeholder and broader community input into policy decisions and changes around the health of the Waikato and Waipa rivers. The stakeholders range from iwi to primary industry, tourism operators and NGOs to name a few.

“It’s a big group, there was a lot of scepticim at first but it’s working well”. After a couple of years of hard graft, the CSG is set to sign off and deliver a set of recommendations on policy change to the WRC and iwi by the 9th May 2016. For the CSG the bottom line is working towards rivers that people can swim and fish in. James acknowledges that the outcome is a tough task but he says they need to be aspirational and “we just have to make a start and get on that trajectory”. The work to meet this is expected to take around 80 years – a long game is important to avoid extreme stress and social disruption.

Momona won two Ballance farm environment awards in 2013. James has also accepted an invitation from Agresearch to participate in research around land use capability and planning for modelling purposes.