NZ Farmer - Farmers care about the environment too

Dairy NZ CE Tim Mackle writes:

Passion for the environment is running high and not just by our farmers. Looking after the land we work on is a part of life when you're a farmer. It's a great thing to have Kiwis caring so much for New Zealand's land and waterways – we've been doing so for years, so collective passion can only be positive.

As farmers we also know our sector is vital to the economy, and there must be a balance between productivity and how we look after the land and water sustainably.

We bring in an annual average of $14.4 billion to the economy, and directly employ some 40,000 or so people. But we aren't just focused on the numbers. I know that the vast majority of farmers also consider themselves environmental stewards and pride themselves in taking care of their land and waterways. The fact that dairy farmers have voluntarily fenced 97 per cent of Water Accord waterways is proof of this.

However, as is the case with all sectors, how the public perceive us doesn't always align with how we see ourselves. Right now, 80 per cent of New Zealanders agree dairy farmers are important in our community. But we're hearing almost all New Zealanders believe we should be doing more to protect our land and waterways.

We know we have a role to play in reducing our environmental footprint, and I believe we should be proud of the work going on in the environmental space. The money DairyNZ receives through levies funds more than $18.5 million in scientific research, and a further $10.6 million for environmental work last year. DairyNZ is second only to NIWA for the number of water quality scientists we have focusing on effective and efficient ways we can improve our water quality.

I know farmers are aware of the growing concerns around New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions too. In New Zealand, dairy makes up just under half of the agricultural emissions, which means the sector is responsible for about a quarter of the total emissions. Addressing emissions is a journey all farmers will need to take. And while it's early days for most farmers, some are already doing things on-farm that make a difference to their emissions; such as planting trees, and better soil management.

We recently ran nine greenhouse gas workshops for rural professionals across the country, attracting about 420 participants. They came away from the workshop knowing that while there is no silver bullet for farmers to reduce emissions, there are some options they can adopt right now. Overwhelmingly, participants valued the workshops – which I hope translates to there being 420 or so more farm advisors and professionals around the regions who can provide better advice to farmers on how best to reduce on-farm emissions.

I am also hopeful of the science projects that are well underway, like the research on a methane inhibiting vaccine. In terms of what farmers can do, DairyNZ will be rolling out climate change workshops for farmers in early 2018. We also just won a Kudos Award for our Pastoral 21 research that has reduced nitrate leaching on farm by up to 40 per cent through very doable on-farm changes.

We knew climate change and water would be hot topics this year. I am hopeful that New Zealanders realise that dairy farmers alone can't make all the changes needed to improve New Zealand's water and carbon issues. We are ready to work with our future Government on these challenging issues. It will take everyone working together if we are to make the most progress on these big challenges, rather than singling out one or two sectors.

It's important to remember that many of our current environmental challenges are inter-generational, and will only be resolved by changing the mindsets of all New Zealand communities, urban and rural. As farmers, you have a significant part to play in building greater understanding from our fellow New Zealanders on the terrific work you are doing to ensure our dairy sector has a sustainable and competitive future.

Tim Mackle is the chief executive of DairyNZ.