Award-winning dairy farmers put high priority on water quality work

11 June 2018

There’s nothing better than sitting under a tree dangling your feet in a river, knowing the water is clean and that you’ve contributed to that. Or jumping in the river to enjoy a refreshing swim on a hot day.

These are pleasures Manawatu-Whanganui region dairy farmers Andrew Hardie and Helen Long get to enjoy, thanks to their dedication to environmental stewardship and significant environmental work on their property.

Te Maunga Farm is bounded by two swimmable rivers – the Manawatu and Mangatewainui rivers. Helen says clean water is very important to the family because they love swimming, and draw all their drinking water and stock water from the Mangatewainui. “It’s great to see clear water, with no algae growth or slime,” Andrew says.

The couple won four awards in the recent Ballance Farm Environment Awards for their work for the environment and the success of their farming business. Their awards are for the Horizons region and are: the 2018 Regional Supreme Award, DairyNZ Sustainability and Stewardship Award, Hill Laboratories Agri-Science Award and WaterForce Integrated Management Award.

Andrew says it was a real buzz winning the awards because it was the first time they had entered. He emphases water quality is a collaborative effort and everyone along a water course plays a part, not just dairy farming.

The biggest contributor to water quality improvement from dairy farming is excluding stock from waterways, Andrew says. The couple excluded all their stock from major waterways in their first year on Te Maunga farm, in 1999.  Since then they have fenced more and more of the smaller streams and more of the ephemeral streams (which only run for part of the year).

Currently 97% of all dairy streams in New Zealand are planted and fenced. “If we can get full stock exclusion as an industry that will be fantastic,” Andrew says.

The couple’s property, north-east of Dannevirke, is diverse – of 420 ha, only 300 ha is in grass. The rest is planted in pines (40 ha), native bush (30 ha), shelter belts and fenced riparian areas (35 ha). They milk 700 Once A Day cows on a 240 ha milking platform, and have an 80 ha runoff.

Andrew and Helen plan to continue fencing off and planting marginal areas. They also want to build structured wetlands at every outlet – drains and water courses – because wetlands are so good at filtering water. The couple also want to put QE2 covenants over a number of areas. Helen says it’s absolutely vital they can pass on a property that is in excellent environmental shape.

“One of the really big things for us is our adult children love binging their city friends home and showing them around the farm, swimming in the river and showing them the animals. It’s about bringing city and rural together. We love seeing that.”

Helen says their work has to be a balance between business, family and environment.  “Our business has to be financially secure. If it isn’t you can’t do a lot of these environmental initiatives.”

Working together to improve water quality

Recent results from Horizons Regional Council showed improving trends in monitoring sites on the region’s rivers including the Mangatewainui River, which collects water from Andrew and Helen’s farm and other farms upstream.

Andrew says it’s encouraging to see continually improving results. “We can all do a little better though.” He says it’s great to see farmers working together and sharing information and tips on their stewardship of the land. DairyNZ and other organisations run field days to help farmers learn about environmental initiatives and share tools to help. Andrew and Helen are also part of DairyNZ discussion groups.

“The best advantage of farmers working together and learning from each other is the support it provides. If it becomes common knowledge it’s not that hard, people get encouraged and the whole community get behind you. It’s like team support.

“There are a lot of people doing good work and the more word gets out about that, the more people will come on board.

“If we collectively keep going, it’s only going to get better. Actions we’re taking now will show up in improved water quality in the future. Technology will also have a big part to play in solving some of the environmental challenges in the future.”

The couple hope to work with a 50-50 sharemilker in the future because they want to have more time to get more involved in the community and champion environmental initiatives

“No-one owns the water. The better we look after the resource, the better and more valuable it will be not only for this generation but future generations,” Andrew says.


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