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Selwyn and Hinds farmers take action to reduce nitrogen

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Selwyn and Hinds dairy farmers are taking steps to reduce farm nitrogen loss, according to a recent DairyNZ survey.

DairyNZ surveyed 235 of 450 Selwyn and Hinds dairy farms, with all reporting positive environmental changes on-farm including improved irrigation efficiency, fertiliser use and new technologies.

"The survey shows Selwyn and Hinds farmers are working hard to reduce their footprint," says DairyNZ solutions and development lead advisor, Virginia Serra.

"Taking steps now to reduce nitrogen losses will help improve water quality over time. We know it isn’t easy, but farmers are on the journey and support is available from DairyNZ, dairy companies and rural professionals."

Survey participants reported:

Eighty-one percent of farmers have improved irrigation systems or management.

More than 50 percent have changed fertiliser use and improved effluent management.

Some farmers have changed stocking rate, are using the grazing herb plantain which reduces nitrogen loss, or have made other changes to benefit the environment.

DairyNZ has been working with Selwyn and Hinds farmers for three years in a project to help farmers reduce nitrogen loss, while optimising profit and resilience.

The project, Meeting a Sustainable Future, is trialling options with 40 partner farms and shares the knowledge with local farmers through field days and events. The work is designed to help farmers meet Environment Canterbury and government rules, says Mrs Serra.

Under Environment Canterbury rules, Selwyn dairy farmers must reduce nitrogen losses by 30 percent by 2022, compared to their baseline figure from 2009-2013. A farm’s baseline is its average annual nitrogen loss over those four years.

In Hinds, farmers have to reduce nitrogen losses by 15 percent by 2025, 25 percent by 2030 and 36 percent by 2035.

In July, a new nationwide nitrogen cap took effect, capping synthetic nitrogen fertiliser applied to pasture at 190kg N/ha/year. Farmers throughout the country are working hard to achieve this.

Meeting a Sustainable Future project

As part of the Meeting a Sustainable Future project, DairyNZ and partner farmers have hosted more than 20 field days and events to discuss options.

More than 500 farmers and employees attended one of these field days or events in the past year (90 percent of Selwyn and Hinds dairy farms).

Farmers nationwide can learn from the project about options on their own farms. Visit dairynz.co.nz/selwynhinds

Farm change brought to life

The Everest family of Ashburton in Hinds are one of many local farming families working hard to reduce nitrogen loss.

Phill and Jos Everest farm 750 dairy cows with their son Paul and his partner Sarah, and they work together as a family to meet their environmental goals and stay ahead of regulations.

Phill and Jos are actively involved in DairyNZ’s Meeting a Sustainable Future project, which shares knowledge among local farmers to reduce nitrogen loss.

Phill is a DairyNZ Climate Change Ambassador and says local farmers know they need to make changes for the future to protect the environment.

"We’ve always focused on learning how to do things better. We’ve got to learn fast to make changes and keep contributing to our local communities."

The family’s changes include reducing nitrogen fertiliser by 35 percent - ahead of the national and regional deadlines. This resulted in a small reduction in milk production this season.

Phill says they learnt from the changes and next season will adjust their approach and focus on improving pasture growth to lift milk production.

"We developed an annual nitrogen application plan so we knew what our target application rates were each month to meet the new targets. We also used a coated urea product which reduces greenhouse gas and nitrogen losses," says Phill.

Among other improvements, the Everests have installed a variable rate irrigation system on one pivot irrigator. This is very water efficient and allows water to be applied in different amounts across a paddock, reducing drainage and nutrient losses.

The farm team has carried out 22km of planting along drains and fence lines to improve water quality and provide shelter.

Plantain and chicory have been added to their pasture mix, and additional plantain and clover seed is applied with capital fertiliser dressing. These changes help reduce nitrogen loss.

Together with DairyNZ, the Everests hosted a field day in May on their farm near Ashburton, which 45 farmers attended.

Phill says reducing nitrogen losses further to meet environmental requirements will be a significant challenge for their family and other farmers.

"We’re taking small steps each year to make the best improvements we can in a sustainable way. If all sectors and all New Zealanders take small steps and work together, we’ll all get the benefits."

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