Wa­ter tops farm­ers’ warn­ing list

South Waikato News - - FARMING - By JON MOR­GAN

While farm­ers con­tinue to be warned of high debt lev­els and the pos­si­bil­ity of an un­friendly govern­ment they have been told wa­ter is the big­gest is­sue they face.

Out­go­ing Fed­er­ated Farm­ers pres­i­dent Bruce Wills told those at the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s an­nual con­fer­ence that with ru­ral debt of just un­der $53 bil­lion farm­ers ran the risk of be­ing un­able to re­pay some of it if they struck a se­ri­ous weather event.

He said the Govern­ment had been largely sup­port­ive of agri­cul­ture. "Should we have a change of Govern­ment on Septem­ber 20, this is un­likely to con­tinue to be the case."

But wa­ter was the big­gest is­sue. "How do we main­tain and im­prove its qual­ity in face of a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion and ex­pand­ing and chang­ing farm businesses?"

Nu­tri­ents were find­ing their way into streams. "We can sort phos­pho­rous – I’m con­vinced of that - this is largely about good man­age­ment."

It was dif­fused ni­tro­gen leach­ing that was the big­gest chal­lenge.

Be­ing sus­tain­able was good busi­ness and wast­ing nu­tri­ents didn’t make sense, he said.

The 20-year change to dairy­ing had pushed onto lighter soils "and in some ar­eas we’re see­ing too many nu­tri­ents be­ing lost.

"The sci­ence is telling us this and farm­ers have been re­spond­ing for some time, fenc­ing wa­ter­ways, ri­par­ian plant­ing, pre­par­ing nutrient plans and adopt­ing more ef­fi­cient ir­ri­ga­tion."

How­ever, in some sen­si­tive ar­eas more needed to be done, though farm­ers were build­ing feed pads, herd homes and other means of con­trol­ling nutrient runoff. Us­ing less in­puts and re­duc­ing cow num­bers were other op­tions.

An ex­am­ple of how well farm­ers were re­spond­ing was the win­ners of the Bal­lance Farm En­vi­ron­ment Awards, Mark and Devon Slee.

They milked 2580 cows on a large-scale in­ten­sive dairy farm on some of Can­ter­bury’s lighter soils, "ex­actly the sort of farm at the sharp end of the econ­o­myen­vi­ron­ment co­nun­drum we are try­ing to solve".

They were pro­duc­ing 1830kg of milk­solids a hectare, or 475kg a cow.

"With pre­ci­sion farm­ing, smart sci­ence and ex­cep­tional man­age­ment they are leach­ing the same ni­tro­gen they were leach­ing on that property in the mid-1990s, but with 70 per cent more cows. Their im­me­di­ate fo­cus is on re­duc­ing their leach­ing even more."

Wills said farm­ers must run an ef­fi­cient prof­itable busi­ness within sus­tain­able en­vi­ron­men­tal bound­aries.

"To en­sure all New Zealan­ders pros­per we must con­tinue to grow our largest in­dus­try. But we must also look af­ter our en­vi­ron­ment. This is our chal­lenge. I am more con­vinced than ever that is en­tirely achiev­able and our farm­ers are well on the road to mak­ing this a re­al­ity."

Wills was suc­ceeded as pres­i­dent by for­mer South Can­ter­bury GP-turned­farmer Wil­liam Rolle­ston. Vice-pres­i­dent is An­ders Cro­foot, a for­mer New York in­vest­ment funds an­a­lyst who bought Wairarapa’s Castle­point Sta­tion in 1998.

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