Farm Diary - exploring the sustainable future of farming

In the past few years, Fonterra has really upped the ante on its environmental focus.

Today I’m out in Pukekohe on Brian’s farm seeing that first-hand, and just exactly how Fonterra’s Farm Environment Plans work.

I’m with Paula Twining, Fonterra’s Dairy Sustainable Manager for Waikato, who worked as a Sustainable Dairy Advisor for the last eight years. There are 40 advisors around the country who deal one-on-one with farmers, helping them achieve their sustainability goals. What that means is analysing each part of the farm and factoring in every aspect of it as a part of their plan.

Currently 34% of Fonterra farmers have a unique Farm Environment Plan, and the goal is to reach 100% by 2025.

On Brian’s farm we’ve started at the effluent pond. The way it works (in layman's terms) is the cows’ manure flows into the designated holding pond along with water, and is then used as a fertilizer to be spread over the farm’s paddocks.

From what Paula tells me, you can instantly tell the difference between an effluent paddock and a non-effluent paddock (the grass in the effluent paddock is usually much healthier).

I was then sent off to shovel off cow poop so it could be runoff into said pond. 

At the next stop I learned about water levels and quality with Paula. We inspected Brian’s water metres and could see his farm has been efficient with its water use. Paula sent me off to hose down after the cows - which was surprisingly quite fun for an urban guy.

Finally, we went to check out one of Brian’s planted areas. We found ourselves in a field full of ti kouka, manuka, and harakeke, and Paula was quite impressed. Planting on-farm promotes biodiversity, helps absorb nutrients in the soil and capture any runoff from the surrounding area.

This is where the Co-operative Difference comes in on-farm.  Paula explains it was introduced last year by Fonterra to make it easier for farmers to understand what is and will be expected of them in the future. It also works to recognize those farmers who have taken steps above and beyond Fonterra’s minimum Terms of Supply.

It focuses on five key areas: Co-op & Prosperity, Environment (which is what we’re looking at today), Animals, Milk, and People & Community.

In order to achieve the Environment aspect, farmers must have and implement a Farm Environment Plan, which is where people like Paula help out.

I’m quickly learning just how detailed, and customized these plans are. Just on our walkthrough, Paula was identifying potential environmental risks and how Brian could mitigate these. Most of all, we were identifying good environmental practices Brian has implemented.

I think what’s really important to note is that what makes FEPs special is they are tailor-made for each farm. Today on Brian’s farm, we were considering his soil type, waterways, and the type of farming system he specializes in. Even for someone like me whose forte definitely isn’t dairy farming, it was all quite easy to understand, as detailed as it was.

Paula informed me I still had a lot of shoveling to do, and I’m not one to slack off, so back to work I went. 

This article was created for Fonterra.