Tuesday, 18 August 2020 08:20

Fresh focus on sustainable dairying

Written by  Sudesh Kissun
Melissa Slattery says she is excited and humbled to secure the role. Melissa Slattery says she is excited and humbled to secure the role.

Sustainability is one of the main challenges facing the current generation of dairy farmers, says Waikato farmer and new Dairy Environment Leaders programme chair Melissa Slattery.

She says developing further practical solutions for water quality and climate change are crucial for the sector to remain relevant and profitable.

“With our predominantly grass fed milk production, we are the most efficient producers of dairy products worldwide, but we need to be relevant for the future,” Slattery told Dairy News.

“Every generation has had its challenges and this is ours.”

Slattery and her husband Justin own and operate a 300 cow, 106ha dairy farm near Te Aroha. She is an associate with a local chartered accountant firm. The Slatterys won the NZ Dairy Industry Awards 2015 Sharemilker/Equity Farmer of the Year title.

The Dairy Environment Leaders programme is run by DairyNZ. Slattery who was part of the programme for the past three years takes over from Matamata farmer Tracy Brown.

Slattery is excited and humbled to secure the role.

“I look forward to building on all the great work dairy farmers are doing throughout New Zealand to improve water quality, and reduce climate change emissions and dairy’s environmental footprint while maintaining our profitable farm business.”

New Zealand is responsible for less than 0.2% of the total global emissions and dairy farmers are among the most emissions-efficient producers in the world.

She notes that NZ has made international commitments for climate change that require reductions in greenhouse gasses. As agriculture makes up 49% of NZ’s greenhouse gas profile, we have to find solutions to reduce our footprint while maintaining the ability of profitable dairy farming to contribute to NZ’s economy.

“Our country’s commitments for improved water quality within a generation also require collaboration, innovation, technology and practical solutions,” she says.

NZ dairy farmers have been improving their carbon footprint but more work is needed.

Slattery points out that over time the industry has achieved efficiencies on carbon emissions of 2% per year.

“This is out of being more efficient on farm and innovating either through more measuring or genetics or fine tuning our systems.

“Harvesting more grass/ha, wasting less brought-in feed, either through improved farm practices or investment of infrastructure, is a win-win that has accumulated over time.

“The focus now is on how we achieve the 10% reduction by 2030 and the bigger more ambitious targets for 2050 and beyond, and how we reach them are unknown.”

She says there are some exciting innovations. For instance, the recently announced work on ‘cowbotcha’ through Fonterra, a supplement that works on the cow’s ruminant to reduce the methane production. These innovations we haven’t yet come across on farm will hopefully help us meet our longer term targets, says Slattery.

On water quality, farmers have invested in effluent infrastructure, fenced off waterways and some have retired parts of the farm.

They record nutrient use and have refined fertiliser policy so they only apply what the pasture and crop needs to grow.

Slattery notes that farmers who irrigate have invested in better infrastructure, moisture monitoring and are audited against their irrigation consent.

Farmers have completed a lot of riparian planting and some are constructing wetlands to catch contaminants. The industry is adopting Farm Environment Plans to support and guide practices on farm based on soil types, topography, rain fall, farm systems, infrastructure and local water bodies.

“Plenty has been done – though there is plenty more to do,” Slattery says.

“Some catchments are facing some ‘problems’ in terms of N-reduction. Key moving forward is allowing the time needed for farmers to make the changes needed to meet new limits without complete loss of financial viability.”

Slattery believes strong sustainable credentials will bring better returns and keep the business in good stead for the next generation.

“The credit we will get is in positioning ourselves to achieve a value add price and farming practice that is sustainable for the next generations, and maintaining our market share as consumers appreciate the value of good food.

“Consumers and markets will determine the credit we deserve.

“It has been positive to see appreciation for the value the dairy sector is delivering to help rebuild the economy after the effects of Covid-19.”

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