An initiative providing Farm Environment Plans (FEPs) for Fonterra farmers, at no additional cost, is not only helping New Zealand dairy producers become more efficient, it's also helping them farm more sustainably.
And with a third of all Fonterra farms now having their own tailor-made plan, the co-op is well on track to ensuring all 10,000 farms have an FEP by 2025.
The Farm Environment Plans contribute to the Fonterra Co-operative Difference framework, an overarching project that puts sustainability at the heart of everything the co-op does.
Paula Twining, Sustainable Dairying Manager for the Waikato region, says the customised plans identify on-farm environmental risks and lay out strategies for mitigating them. They also highlight good environmental practices the farmer is already doing and map out how these can be further implemented.
She describes the FEPs as a "live document".
"We like to think of it as something that is held between the farmer and us, and that we can go back and help the farmer keep moving on their journey towards being the most efficient with the best good-farming practices they can have."
Twining said FEPs are also important for farmers to be able to rest assured they are staying up to date with the many regulations the industry faces, giving them the confidence to know they'll be able to "farm into the future".
The plans look at everything from the size of the farm, to how many cows they have and how much milk they are producing, to water use, practices regarding soil, waste, effluents and biodiversity. Any significant cultural sites on the farm are also taken into account in the report.
Twining says the response by those farmers already involved has been "awesome", although admits some are not sure what to expect going into the process.
"Some of them are apprehensive at the start to go, 'ok we've got this person coming out to assess things on my farm', but once they understand what we're actually looking for and how we can make their system better and future-proof it, they're great. They're totally on board, they love the process."
Fonterra farms already have a carbon footprint around a third of the world average, but the company is constantly striving to become even more sustainable.
Twining says customers and consumers are increasingly demanding higher standards when it comes to environmental issues, and that pressure constantly drives farmers and Fonterra as a whole to better their practices.
"We want to make sure that the supply chain, right back down to the blades of grass the cows are eating, is as sustainable as possible. And getting our farmers to good-farming practice is certainly helping along that pathway."
Despite the constant progress, though, Twining says there will always be challenges when it comes to farming and the environment.
"It's just a changing landscape," she says.
"We're trying to make sure our farmers stay where they need to be with regulations or with customer and consumer demand - so we've got to be thinking what's next, what's coming down the pipeline, how can we best position that or how can we best get our farmers into the right place so that they are going to be ok, that they are going to be able to keep farming.
"It's always going to be a moving feast so we'll just keep trying to stay on top of that."
Twining said she was confident farmers would continue to adapt and innovate in the face of the challenges, as they had always done.
"We might just be a small drop in the bucket of the world but man we've got a great system here at the bottom of the world and it certainly shows," she said.
"People notice little old New Zealand and our farming."
This article was created for Fonterra