Sustainable Milk Production

June 2020

The dairy industry projects responding to a need for visible environmental best practice

The Upper Waikato Sustainable Milk Project was the largest environmental good-practice project ever undertaken by the dairy industry in New Zealand. That was completed in 2014. The Waipa Sustainable Milk Project followed soon after, running from 2018 to 2019. These projects were industry-wide collaborations created in response to the pressing need for more effective and visible environmental best practice throughout the dairy industry. The UWSMP was the prototype, providing industry-wide information for a new blueprint for sustainable dairy production in New Zealand.

The UWSMP was managed by DairyNZ and supported by the wider dairy industry, including; Fonterra, Miraka and Open Country dairy companies. It was funded by dairy farmers through the DairyNZ levy. Additional funding and support came from central government (through the Primary Growth Partnership) and the Waikato River Authority. The Project was a finalist in the Green Ribbon Awards in 2015.

Morrinsville-based Mike Bramley was an Environmental Extension Specialist with DairyNZ when he became one of the original steering group members for UWSMP as a result of a pilot he had been working on. He is currently a Consulting Officer at DairyNZ. At the beginning of the Upper Waikato Sustainable Milk Project, a number of consultants (including Mike) were engaged to offer advice and support to farmers. They included agricultural consultants, fertiliser companies and milk companies. Prior to that, objectives were developed through “robust debate and stakeholder discussions” over a four-month period. The objectives were incorporated as targets in a guiding “template” for discussions between farmers and their project consultants.

They included the use of current nutrient budget software and on farm actions to improve or maximise nitrogen use and minimise N (and P) loss. On-farm stream, lake and wetland areas were identified, and actions undertaken to improve biodiversity and water quality. Areas of potential soil loss were targeted and reduction of soil erosion was focus areas for management. Other targets were around water use, with consents required under the Waikato Regional Council’s Regional Plan. Water use efficiency was a critical part of this. By 2015, 642 farms in the Upper Waikato Catchment were taking part in the UWSMP project.

Following this, the Waipa Milk Plan began, as part of the Healthy Rivers and Farmer Engagement Groups. Fonterra developed their Farm Plan. Federated Farmers researched 20 farms to establish costs of implementation. DairyNZ, independent farm consulting and dairy companies all were involved. Mike says all this work is evolving as technology and systems are refined as a result of lessons learned as work progresses.

Two North Waikato farmers committed to sustainable dairy production are John Bluett and John Hayward (who along with wife Susan won the 2016 Waikato Supreme Ballance Farm Environmental Award - Rural Delivery featured the Haywards in June 2018).

John Bluett runs from 670-680 milking cows on a low cost, highly productive system 2 (3 if feed is short) on 230 effective hectares of hill country at Te Pahu in north west Waikato, with another farm near Te Kuiti. He sells about 10% of the herd each year as surplus. John became involved with the Healthy Rivers and the Sustainable Milk Plan in 2014. He developed his Farm Environment Plan using the Ballance Mitigator Programme.

John gets his information from a variety of sources: his Fonterra advisor, Ballance, Environment Waikato, and the Sustainability team at DairyNZ. By winter this year (2020) John will have completed 5 kms of 5m fencing of water ways. In 2019 he planted about 5,000 plants and has plans for another two to three thousand trees to be planted in 2020. Infrastructure has also been addressed. John has changed the course of races and drainage to fit with his “whole farm” plan, three underpasses and a feed pad have been installed. He has used contractors to prepare land for planting of riparian margins. The cost is shared equally between himself, Environment Waikato and the Waikato River Authority. He says collaborative relationships between farmers and regional authorities are critical to the success and feasibility of such work.

John and Susan Hayward’s Judge Valley Dairies is based near Te Awamutu on 245ha of a mix of flat and rolling hill country. John believes in “designing what you do on your farm to your own micro-climate, waterways and topography”. Since Rural Delivery last visited, the Haywards have further refined their systems and are aiming for a “zero-waste” operation. In addition to their dairy operation they have introduced dairy beef, along with farm forestry. About 5 ha is planted in pine trees, and a manuka venture with honey company Comvita is ongoing. They have expanded areas of riparian planting and wetland restoration. (And they have developed a show jumping training arena as well, as part of their diversification philosophy.)

John Hayward gets advice from fertiliser company Ravensdown, DairyNZ, and does his own reading and research. His actions are aimed at addressing the consequences of climate change. John has become one of DairyNZ’s climate change ambassadors. Herd size has been reduced from 480 to 350 cows and every effort is focused on every cow producing with maximum efficiency. All maize is grown on farm and they have improved their effluent storage and dispersal systems. Marginal land is being turned into forestry blocks. John says considerable investment is spent on making these improvements to the operation, in the region of $30 - $40,000 a year.

Farmer commitment remains a key element in the ongoing success of sustainable milk production approaches that are being designed for individual farms and situations. Mike Bramley says assistance comes from scientists, dairy companies, fertiliser companies and agricultural advisor organisations. They help farmers understand, and implement the actions required for, areas of potential gain and losses. He notes any advice must be practical, applicable and customised in order to make a real difference.


Showdown Productions Ltd - Rural Delivery Series 15 2020