A report of Dairy NZ’s recent annual meeting quoted Dairy NZ director Alister Body as saying that he was apprehensive about going to social gatherings knowing someone might “have a go” about dairy farming.

Chief executive Tim Mackle was also quoted as saying that the industry acknowledged it used to be naive but that was years ago.  “We have moved on from the time when we were damaging the environment unashamedly.  We know what we are doing now and are continually trying to improve how we conduct our business.”

There are two issues in those statements worth exploring.  Firstly having been part of the dairy industry since 1979 our own practises and attitudes and those of farmers we’ve worked with never involved activities that unashamedly damaged the environment.

We have always been mindful of any potential long term harm and with the knowledge and resources available at the time damage has always been minimised.

Secondly the issue urban New Zealanders are becoming increasingly troubled about is Nitrate-N levels in our water, and part of that concern is how serious the dairy industry really is about addressing it.

Currently in excess of 600,000 tonnes of urea applied to pastoral land in New Zealand.  At best 50% of the nitrogen contained in urea is taken up by plants; a little is lost direct to the atmosphere with the remainder leaching into fresh water.

There’s no reduction in total urea usage and conventional advice strongly suggests that there is no intent to make the required changes.

Regulations being introduced by local and district authorities will restrict usage however some farmers anticipating that these would be based on a percentage of historic inputs, have in the last two years deliberately increased the amount being applied.

This situation will self-correct and probably quite rapidly.  Social pressure is obviously starting to impact, and even dairy farmers don’t wish to feel ostracised from the wider community, however it’s the present and predicted payouts for the next five years that will kick-start the necessary changes.

There is an increasing number of farmers that are using less than 20kgN/ha annually and are currently operating well within the N loss regulations.

These operations grow more total pasture than district average, often by as much as 30%, and with the spread of grass throughout the year being more even feed allocation is simpler.

Because the pasture grown contains more energy less dry matter is required to produce a kilogram of milksolids resulting in higher per cow production.  Animal health and fertiliser costs including nitrogen are also lower.

The impact of farm practises on operators is also important and knowing that each year there is the potential for increased production provides a sense of purpose and satisfaction.

With independently reviewed performance data collected over the last ten years farmers serious about enhancing the environment and securing their financial future are able to seamlessly transition from a fertiliser-N dependent system without risk.

In the short term the best part may be looking forward to Christmas with relatives from town knowing that the farm is environmentally positive and on track to again produce the world’s highest quality milk and meat.

For more information contact Peter on 0800 436 566.

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