Sustainable dairy forum inspires local farmers

18 December 2017

Some of Australasia’s experts in sustainability and leadership recently inspired Waikato dairy farmers at a national event in Wellington.

The Dairy Environment Leaders Forum held in December hosted 93 dairy farmers who focused on sustainable farming issues in the dairy sector and celebrated dairy achievements.

Guest speakers included Australian author and science communicator Julian Cribb, Maori businesswoman Mavis Mullins, businessman and environmentalist Sir Rob Fenwick, DairyNZ strategy and investment leader Bruce Thorrold and a selection of dairy farmers.

At the forum, Julian warned the culture of waste sees half of farmers’ efforts end up as landfill.

“The knowledge of how to grow healthy food and recycle nutrients and water will become a skill more precious than any commodity. New Zealand has the expertise, technology and ideas to lead a sustainable food revolution,” says Julian. “The New Zealand dairy industry can be a world exporter of the knowledge humanity needs to survive.”

North Waikato farmer Jenny Morrison said the range of speakers at the forum, including a ‘learning from leaders’ session with 14 different leaders, was hugely motivating.

“I really learnt that it’s not just about the big things, it’s the little things too,” says Jenny. “Particularly reducing waste – we all have a lot of waste, including food, and we can all do something about it. Food in particular takes water, energy, time and effort to produce and we can’t afford for it to end up in landfill. To help farmers lower their environmental footprint, we need everyone to eliminate their food waste.”

While little, everyday things help – Jenny and husband Craig have done some big things on their Hikuai farm, including extensive tree planting and fencing neighbouring waterways many years ago. Twenty hectares of their dry stock farm has also been planted in forestry. Stock type is matched to land type and native trees, including 100-year-old kauri, are enabled to flourish.

“Our land has been in the Morrison family since the late 1800s, we really care about it and have made changes to the way we farm it.”

DairyNZ strategy and investment leader for sustainability, Dr Rick Pridmore, established the Dairy Environment Leaders Forum five years ago to build a cohort of farmers who would lead the industry into its future.

“The forum brings together farmers who work in their communities, with councils and on farms,” says Rick.

He says over 250 Dairy Environment Leaders now take positive action nationwide, from hosting visitors on-farm or liaising with council/government, to working on local catchment water quality and climate change.

“There used to be one way to farm to make milk and one way to farm for the environment – and now the two are totally aligned for these farmers. It’s really great to see it as the top agenda for dairy farmers,” says Rick.

“We produce three percent of the world’s milk – we have to make it the most natural, most wanted and most desirable milk in the world.”

Dairy Environment Leaders chair Tracy Brown, a Matamata dairy farmer, says the forum is about farmers showing leadership on-farm and in communities.

“We have created a movement of dairy farmers who want to make things better. They are part of shaping our future for the good of all New Zealand,” says Tracy.

“Most farmers share a love for the environment and I haven’t met any who don’t enjoy time spent outdoors surrounded by nature. We work hard on our farms, in our communities on behalf of our sector and for New Zealand, and are proud of what we do.”

Tracy says while much has been achieved already, highlighted by this year’s Sustainable Dairying: Water Accord results, there is still work to do as part of a collective effort of New Zealand working together.

For more information about the Dairy Environment Leaders Forum, including highlight videos, visit

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