The Impact of One Plan on a Dairy Conversion

April 2016

David Marshall recently converted to dairying under the Horizon Region's One Plan

Tutu Totara owners David and Sarah Marshall take their responsibility to manage the impact of their farming operation on the Rangitikei as a fundamental driver of their operation.

The Marshalls operate their farm under the Horizons Regional Council’s One Plan, with consent for their nutrient discharges.  They are farming well within the nutrient cap.

One Plan is Horizons Regional Council’s blueprint for the future guardianship of the environment and natural resources of the region. What the council was trying to do with the One Plan was to strike a balance between using natural resources for the economic and social wellbeing of the region, while keeping the environment in good health.

The focus of the plan was on the four biggest environmental issues in the region: surface water quality degradation, increasing water demand, unsustainable hill country land use and threatened native biodiversity.

After years of debate One Plan was adopted by Horizons in December 2014. Since then, it’s been suggested that the council has been giving farmers consents that allow more nitrate leaching than set out in the One Plan. They include nitrogen management plans and nitrogen leaching targets well below those called for in the One Plan.

Tuta Totara is a large holding on the banks of the Rangitikei River between Marton and Rata.  It has been in the Marshall family for many generations and has more recently been converted to dairy farming.  It has been the subject of many assessments and trials of technology for reducing the impacts of nutrients, and managing dairy effluent effectively.

In recent years, they have introduced centre pivot irrigators as they have intensified their dairy operation, adding a new cow shed in 2009.   They have also fully upgraded their dairy plant to minimise impacts on the environment.

They are farming within the nutrient cap, which puts them at approximately 25 kg/h/yr.  This leaching rate is low and necessary in this sensitive environment.

David Marshall says that for him, the key focus of One Plan was water quality. He says they wanted to run a sustainable, profitable business without compromising water quality. That approach has led to a reasonably low stocking rate of roughly 2.7 cows to the hectare.

They aim to keep the cost of production below $4 per kg/ms.

The farm is trying a new crop system to soak up nutrients.

When One Plan was first being discussed, David Marshall said he thought the object was a good idea but he expressed some concern that farmers might start going to a lot of trouble and expense to comply with consents and discover that what they were doing wasn’t having an impact.

Some of the farm’s most productive areas are close to the Rangitikei River and were constrained in their use because of the proximity to a waterway.

David also says the that requirements have shifted a number of times over the years and what was acceptable 15 or 20 years ago is no longer acceptable in terms of nutrient loss.

Eight years on he believes that there’s still a lot of space for technology and science to help farmers meet their environmental and economic targets.

Manager Richard Ash is the 2015 Manawatu Sharemilker/Equity Farmer of the Year. He is 33 years old and has been equity sharemilking 1400 cows for the Marshalls for 10 years, after completing a Bachelor of Applied Science from Massey University and travelling and farming overseas. He says he has complementary skills and a great working relationship with the Marshalls. The property runs two milking sheds and Richard manages a staff of 10.

A recent focus has been keeping the cost of supplements down by focusing on growing crops in areas of the farm that are too far away from the shed for grazing. Sugar beet is one crop that has shown to be a good fit for the property.