Wake up to a soggy day, but at least it’s not freezing! First port of call is Federated Farmers of New Zealand (FFNZ). An organisation that advocates on behalf of it’s members to government on the big issues affecting the agricultural industry in New Zealand. The group is over 100 years old and is a national one, split into 24 provinces which are all under a national structure. It is the largest organisation of it’s kind with over 14,000 voluntary members with over half of those being dairy. As a total they represent 60-70% of the dairy farmers in NZ. Currently the biggest issues on the table for their dairy representation are;
- Environment: water quality; nitrates and sediment.
- Native habitats: dairy farm encroachment.
- Landscapes: unsightly fences, dairy going into untraditional farmland.
- Climate change: Livestock emissions.
- Biosecurity: Mycoplasma, plants and weeds.
- Animal welfare: on farm practice, tail docking, pain relief.
An important issue which had had considerable work done with some level of success is the bobby calf trade. Farmers participation in actively showing what they do and why, educating the general public has in some respect taken the wind out of biased anti campaigns. Practices on farm have changed with new legislation such as transport companies no longer being able to lift animals onto trucks. All farms need to have compatible loading faculties.
Other key points noted from our visit to FFNZ include;
- How to address labour shortage; improving perceptions on wages, hours, lifestyle.
- Offering more training opportunities through apprenticeships. Succession planning.
- How to reach out to members; email, newsletters, newspapers, Facebook, meetings.
All in all, an interesting discussion with plenty to think further about.
Next stop, Lincoln Demonstration Farm. This is a farming development facility aimed at using advancing farming practices on a commercial scale. It is particularly focussed on productivity and environmental sustainability. It has been a conscious decision to operate as a demonstration farm and not a research farm, as to engage with real time farming community. Lincoln strives to be in the top percentile of profitable farms to show that the changing regulations regarding environmental footprint are achievable and sustainable. As a commercial farm, it is an early adopter of technology and information. It takes higher risks in order to discover what practices are realistic/achievable and why others are not.
At the moment they are using the 2022 nutrient requirements set by government to see if it is profitable and if it can it be done. This is because nitrogen and phosphorous leeching is dairy farmings number one issue. Changes are already taking place industry wide to practices to deal with water quality and the issues arising from nutrient run off affecting waterways.
Here is a quick summary of the farms resources to give an idea of the scale it runs.
- Appox. 500 Friesian/Jersey cross at 490kg
- Calving July/August
- 4 full time staff
- 160ha milking platform
- 100% irrigation
An interesting point made toady at Lincoln is the thought that the industry is at a bit of a crossroads. Due to public perceptions of farming, public concern for water quality and other environmental issues, it’s unlikely many more farm conversions may happen. Also, the competition from other protein sources is growing. How will the industry continue to grow and adapt?
After a quick look at the milking shed, we were back on the bus to get some grub and head to the next location.
Dairy New Zealand. A quick paced walk to avoid the rain got us inside to meet Natalia Benquet. A very interesting lady full of knowledge. She explained Dairy NZ’s role in the industry and gave us some reading material. As an extension officer, she has lots of face to face time with suppliers, which appears to be key in sharing information. Heading discussion groups for all different types of dairy systems, be that robot, once a day, irrigation etc has given her the knowledge and ability to share and educate others.
DNZ is a not for profit organisation which splits its levy fees between research, consultants, education etc. 3.6c per kilo of milk solids is contributed by dairy farmers. A major focus point currently is getting farmers upto scratch with business literacy, as many know day to day work, but not how to work the financial numbers.
‘Rosie the cow’ – what a great idea! What is Rosie the cow? A cow that teaches students about dairy farming. DNZ funds the program aimed at educating primary school students. The resource helps teachers from the beginning. It includes a learning program about where food comes from to how to get a class on farm (legal requirements, OHS etc). 8000 schools across NZ have taken up the voluntary program. That’s over half of the primary schools in the country. With my experience of agriculture being stripped from school during my studies, I think this is a wonderful program.
Knock at the door.
Reception informs us that Christchurch is in a state of emergency due to rainfall, and we quickly pack up, say thank you and leave. What a way to end the day.
– Katherine Byrne