NZ Farmer - "It's just simple basic farming"

Matt McKenzie says he is just doing "simple, basic farming". 

The 26-year-old dairy farmer won the environmental leadership in farming and land management award at the Southland Community Environment Awards last week.

Trained as an engineer, McKenzie took over his parents' farm in Woodlands and converted it from a dry stock farm to a completely self-contained dairy farm for the 2015/16 season. He, along with his wife Sarah, a teacher, contract milk for McKenzie's parents Eoin and Jayne. 

Eoin remains a big part of the farming operation. 

On the farm McKenzie milks 650 crossbred cows on a 220 hectare milking platform with three full-time staff. The farm has moved to once-a-day milking this season.

Mckenzie said the move was a part of trying to be a sustainable business. 

Through winter he avoids planting brassicas, preferring a grass and baleage system to avoid pugging and transition problems. They also strategically graze the cows to minimise nutrient losses.

The 54-bale rotary shed is accompanied by a 100 metre-long feed pad.

"That reduces how much time cows are in the paddock."

In just a few years he's well and truly shown his commitment to doing things well, taking the environmental impact into consideration with all his farming decisions. McKenzie entered the Southland-Otago Dairy Industry Awards in the farm manager section this year, finishing third but winning the power play section. 

He picked environmental management as his category, because all of the environmental constraints of his farm were still fresh in his mind following the conversion. Since then, his confidence in what he has been doing on his farm environmentally has grown.

McKenzie doesn't think he's been doing anything extra special on the farm. He said they were small changes that everyone could do.

"It's not like we're doing anything different from what other dairy farmers are doing."

In fact, a lot of farmers deserved the environment award just as much as he did. 

McKenzie has a well thought out plan to get the best from his land, with wide buffers along his fenced waterways to accommodate existing flax and vegetation.

He's worked hard with his father to carry out a lot of native riparian planting and minimised the impact on critical source areas by leaving them ungrazed or fenced them to exclude stock.

He's also allowing about a hectare of land unsuitable for pasture to revert back to wetlands and has done some planting around the new dairy shed and effluent pond.

A lot of the tree planting has been about beautifying the farm. However, McKenzie hoped it would help reduce its carbon emissions too. 

"The more trees you have the more they're doing their job taking carbon out."

Having a sustainable business both financially and environmentally will continue to be a work in progress for the young farmer and his family. 

But he is keen to keep going and hopes to add some beehives to the farm soon. In the long-term he hopes to reduce his nitrogen inputs to zero, by instead using legume-type plants which produce their own nitrogen. 

"To us it's just simple, basic farming."