Dairy farmers do their bit for the environment

Dairy farmers Mark and Jennifer McDonald began beautifying the landscape on their 138-hectare Methven dairy farm a decade ago.

They started in 2009 with a New Zealand native vegetation planting project along a 300-metre stretch of the road boundary to help screen dust from a shingle road. The following season, they planted the margins alongside a one-kilometre spring-fed stream that meanders through the farm on its way to the Ashburton River.

At first, they planted standard Kiwi plants like toetoe, flax, carex, pittosporum and coprosma, but since then, they’ve added an array of others including kaikomako, pokaka, kahikatea and pseudopanax. Trees like kowhai, totara and beech have also been planted to cover as much ground as possible and to reduce the need for maintenance.

Like many farmers that begin planting projects, Mr McDonald says he’s become slightly addicted to tree planting and has begun to propagate some plants as well.

“It all helps to keep the cost down, and it’s very rewarding to collect seeds from the foothills and grow them into trees. And there’s always friends donating seedlings that have popped up in their gardens,” he says.

For the first couple of years, the McDonalds received funding from ECan which helped to get the project on its feet.

“We also became involved in the Carex Project, a collaboration between ECan and the University of Canterbury, who came to sample water quality each month.  The aim of the project was to create a set of tools for farmers to use to improve water quality and eco systems in freshwater streams across Canterbury. It was an excellent project to be part of.”

Restoring a wetland

Six years ago the McDonalds decided to develop a small wetland area that had been unsuccessfully tiled some years before. The area was opened up with a digger to remove drainage pipes and expose the springs that are prevalent in the area. A lot of hard work followed.

“We shaped up a pond in one section and contoured the rest. The area was fenced and, with help from Ashburton College students on work experience, we planted the same basic species,” says Mr McDonald.

The McDonalds are now at the point where they’re seeing a lot of self-seeding which provides a source of young plants that can be transferred to other areas.

Making a difference

Mr McDonald says it’s good to see all their hard work starting to pay off.

“We’re starting to see better shading of the stream which has reduced the number of weeds. The stream is home to eels, trout and bird life, and while they’re still mostly introduced species, I’m sure it will only be a matter of time before we hear bellbirds and tuis on the farm.”

The work goes on

The McDonalds have completed planting along most of the farm’s waterways, and now have their sights set on developing two other wetland areas close to the northern branch of the Ashburton River.

“One is covered in willows, and we’re using the existing cover the willows provide to plant specimen trees like kahikatea, matai, totara and beech. Once these trees get established, we will poison the willows and cut them out,” says Mr McDonald.

“The other area is a low-lying one which is better suited to flaxes, grasses and sedges. We are also in the early stages of restoring a support block near Mayfield which has a significant stream dissecting it.”

DairyNZ has information about planting that’s available to anyone – what to plant, where and why; what to do about weeds; the best plants by region, etc.  Included are regional step-by-step riparian planting guides DairyNZ has published in association with regional councils.  Here’s where they can be found https://www.dairynz.co.nz/environment/waterways/planting-waterways/#guides


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