'Change is required': Southland farming industry leaders develop 'action plan' for winter grazing

Farming industry leaders in Southland have met to develop an action plan for winter grazing, to avoid a repeat of poor practices publicised in a high-profile awareness campaign.

The issue has been under the spotlight after environmentalists released images of mudbound cows on some Southland farms.

It prompted the establishment of a 'Winter Grazing Taskforce' by the Agriculture Minister to look at the issue.

Environment Southland has hosted a hui in Invercargill to discuss and agree on a joint action plan to address the wintering issues.

It included representatives from both the Ministry for the Environment and Ministry for Primary Industries, industry groups Beef and Lamb New Zealand, NZ Deer Farmers Association, DairyNZ and Federated Farmers; and organisations Open Country and Fonterra.

The images of mudbound cows were deemed unacceptable by the Agriculture Minister.
The images of mudbound cows were deemed unacceptable by the Agriculture Minister. Photo credit: Supplied

Environment Southland chief executive Rob Phillips said the hui was a positive step forward to ensure there was a significant improvement in wintering practices. 

"We know the regulation around these practices is changing both from our own plan, but also from Central Government. For these groups and Southland farmers, now's the time to look at and update your farm plans, share these with your teams, and get advice. Change is required, " he said.

"We need to see good management practices in next year's winter grazing. Both Environment Southland and the Ministry for Primary Industries will be looking for this next winter," said Phillips.

He said there was an acknowledgement from around the table that Southland needed to take ownership of the issue, and that change on the ground to winter practice was crucial if there was to be an improvement next season.

Environment Southland has completed three flights to inspect winter grazing practices and has 145 farms to follow-up. 

Of the farms seen from these flights, Phillips said there was a disappointing lack of good management practices being applied across the board.

The hui identified several longer-term initiatives including a need for coordinated local leadership and better understanding of the barriers to adopting good management practices.

It is now developing a plan with both short and long-term actions. 

The focus for the next six weeks would be on talking with farmers about paddock selection and managing swales or critical source areas on-farm for winter next year. The group agreed that getting all farms to good management practices was critical.

The group would meet again in the next two weeks to discuss and review the action plan.