Farmers must adapt quickly to end pollution
Matamata dairy farmers, like all New Zealand dairy farmers, need to work with scientists and industry bodies to evolve new farming systems so that they can farm within nutrient limits, an agricultural conference was told recently.
An University of Waikato economist, Associate Professor Graeme Doole, told the Australian Agricultural & Resource Economics Society’s conference that the impacts on water quality from the growth of dairy farming will need to be addressed and there will have to be a correction to the farming systems that have evolved over the past 200 years.
‘‘Farmers have successfully developed efficient and highly productive systems of farming,’’ he said.
‘‘The issue now is that they will need to evolve these systems to reduce their impact on the environment.’’
The economist, who acts as an adviser to the government on water issues, said generally around 75 to 90 per cent of nitrogen eaten by cows was lost in urine.
The National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management will bring about freshwater quality limits that will require farmers to have systems that can reduce their nutrient leaching and loss of sediment and microbes. ‘‘It is not just about nitrogen. ‘‘We have a multi-factor pollution issue and it’s also about managing phosphorus, e- coli and sediment impacts on our waterways. We’ve got to move away from this nitrogen fixation,’’ he says.
Doole is confident that mitigation measures will be developed that can be cost-effective for farmers to implement. ‘‘To get a lower nitrogen farming system, we will have to be creative and farming will have to evolve and look at growing their use of different kinds of feeds like lucerne and maize silage.’’
He said there are packages of costeffective measures to deal with phosphorus in particular like riparian planting, strategic use of wetlands for hill country farmers and creating buffer zones for waterways.
He acknowledged that dealing with nitrogen will be a lot harder for farming businesses. ‘‘ That’s why it’s important we ensure that economic analysis properly informs the policy making process, so the community as well as the farmers realise the costs of the options that we’ll have to consider,’’ he said.
Although he said it was going to be really tough to find measures for reducing nitrogen leaching that kept farmers profitable, farmers in the Lake Taupo area especially are showing the way, as they have been farming within nutrient limits for some years now.