Farming for the Future: It’s what we have always done

by Jim van der Poel, DairyNZ Chairman

Dairy farming is evolving.  We are at a point where a lot of farmers feel that they are being challenged to change the way they farm, and many are not sure what that means for them or their farming businesses.  Some practices that were common and in fact, encouraged in the past are no longer acceptable today.

When I look back at the dairy industry and reflect on how it has grown to be such a large contributor to the New Zealand economy and to the living standards of all New Zealanders, I’m not sure we don’t take it for granted.  They enjoy those benefits because dairy farmers are such innovators and are so responsive to the signals they receive.

We have grown to be world leading in many facets of our farming businesses from animal welfare to carbon footprint per litre of milk produced.  That doesn’t mean that we get everything right.  There is always a range of operators from those who are quick to adopt the latest practices to those who are slow to change and will sometimes need regulatory change to get the outcomes required.

As dairy farming grew, we were not always aware of our environmental impacts, and as such, didn’t always take that into consideration.

Many dairy farmers today feel under pressure as they are not sure how they will deal with the extra expectations that are coming their way.

DairyNZ is working to develop future farming systems and practices that will incorporate our challenges around greenhouse gases and water quality as well as world leading animal welfare and thriving rural communities that benefit from our activities.

These future farming systems are being developed through the Dairy Tomorrow Strategy, which is a joint initiative with our sector partners, and sets out what our commitments are for the environment, milk quality, animal welfare, employment standards and the values of our milk.

We are actively working with Government to agree what are appropriate targets for methane and nitrous oxide.  We want to play our part for New Zealand to be a good global citizen and meet our commitments to reducing greenhouse gases.  The principle we work to is that all gases should have targets set that reflect their contribution to further warming, and allow farmers to be able to offset their emissions.

Same for water quality.

We understand better now what impact certain practices have on ground water and the rivers that run through our farms.  Dairy farmers have already voluntarily fenced 95 percent of all significant waterways, as well as made investments in riparian planting and upgrading their effluent systems.  Farmers take pride in their farms and their environment and the continual commitment to continually improve is proof of that.

For waterways in New Zealand to continually to improve it will take a commitment by all New Zealanders to do their share as our worst waterways are now often not in dairying areas.

We know that milk is a source of high-quality nutrition that the world will need more of.  We are the most sustainable dairy industry in the world.  Experts believe the world will have another 2.3 billion people to feed by 2050 and they will also need high quality nutrition.

At the same time, our transition to a low-emissions economy needs to be environmentally, socially, culturally, and economically sustainable for our rural communities. Dairy farmers know that the pathway to sustainable farming systems is a continual journey.  But I think that the future is not something we should fear but walk towards as the next step of the evolution of our farming systems that have been evolving for over 100 years.

New Zealand dairy farmers have always been innovative and responsive.  We have lived in a deregulated environment for the last 40 years and thrived.  I believe we will incorporate these new requirements into our farming systems and continue to be world leading.

Media inquiries:

Lee Cowan

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Vanessa Feaver

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