A profitable dairy farm doesn't have to come at the cost of the environment, say South Taranaki dairy farmers Jane and Damian Roper.
The Ropers, who milk 420 cows on their 158ha dairy farm in Alton, welcomed over 100 people on to the farm on Saturday for the formal opening of the latest step in their journey into sustainable and environmentally conscious farming.
This latest step is Ōhuarai pā i te kohu, a pā built by the Roper family and members of the community for the propagation and growing of eco-sourced native trees such as tawa, pukatea, swamp maire, hinau, manuka and rata, says Jane.
"We have been learning te reo Māori since last year. Not only have we began to learn the language but also the culture, the history and the strong Māori values relating to the protection of land and the environment. We wanted to bring Māori culture and their set of values into our farming operation."
Damian says building the pā is the start of their journey into this.
"Building Ōhuarai Pā I te kohu has begun this journey. With help, advice and guidance from our Iwi Ngāti Ruanui, our Marae Wharepuni and our local community the Tūwatawata (stockade) Pā was built. It houses two whare; a propagation house for the germinating of seeds named Rongo-marae-roa (house of generosity and hospitality) and a second shadehouse named Tāne- māhuta for the on growing of the trees before planting out."
Their farm vision to show it is possible to run a tidy, profitable and efficient dairy farm with minimal impact to the environment, using both Māori and modern science practices; is something both he and Jane are passionate about, says Damian.
"There is no point in fighting compliance requirements regarding riparian planting, water quality and gas emissions. It is pleasing to see most farmers are making changes and are seeing the benefits quite quickly."
Damian and Jane's farm is a first-generation family farm that they hope will continue to lead the way for future generations when it comes to sustainable farming. That path is already set with their eldest child, Jack, working on the farm as well as running a contracting business from it that also has an environmentally aware approach to things.
The business, Roper Agriculture, specialises in no tillage, using direct drilling for better soil conservation. Applying this approach on their own farm has enabled them to reduce emissions on the farm, says Damian.
Other ways the Ropers have reduced their emissions have included reducing their stock numbers, cutting phosphate fertiliser, reducing synthetic nitrogen, undersowing with plantain and many more changes. The individual changes may be small but are significant when combined together, says Damian.
These measures, along with looking at how they feed their herd of two-thirds friesian and one-third friesian cross, resulting in what Damian calls "the right feed, in the right amount, at the right time" and means the Ropers have managed to halve their emissions profile over the past three years.
"We have gone from 16 tonne of CO equivalent to 7.8 tonne over those past three seasons."
The Ropers spent many years working their way up through the ranks of farming, starting as farm workers, then going to being contract milkers and then 50:50 sharemilkers, buying their current farm in 2006.
They didn't move on to it immediately however, and continued working as sharemilkers until 2015. By then, they had already completed a massive amount of riparian planting on their farm - over 9000 trees in fact. Since then they have planted many thousands more, and the farm now contains numerous native trees, from cabbage trees to totara, as well as rata, kohuhu, rewarewa, arex, coprosma, as well as the rare swamp maire they have managed to propagate themselves.
"We have to commend the Taranaki Regional Council for their foresight with the riparian planting scheme starting some 20 years ago," says Damian.
These native trees attract plenty of native birds, and the Ropers also have a strong pest management plan, farm environmental plan and a freshwater management plan in place to ensure those native birds, as well as eel andkoura can continue to grow in numbers on the family farm for future generations to enjoy.
The native bush on their land is now classed as a Key Native Ecosystem and will be covenanted under the QEII scheme, and the Ropers say they are delighted to know its preservation is guaranteed, says Jane.
"It ensures we will leave a meaningful legacy."
"We are really grateful to everyone who got behind this project, to Ngāti Ruanui who have been instrumental in helping us get this right, the local community here who have been so supportive throughout, especially when allowing us access onto their land to source seeds," says Damian.
Being able to eco-source the seeds is important, he says.
"Doing that means we are growing trees that belong here, in this part of the country. They aren't just native, they are local native. Not one person said no to us when we asked."
Those native trees will not only be planted on the Roper family farm, but will be made available for others in the community to use in their own planting programmes, as a gift back to the community, says Jane.
"This isn't a commercial enterprise, but a way we can help other farmers become enthusiastic about the benefits of indigenous plantings."
As well as Jack, the Ropers' other two children, Harriet who is a teacher in nearby Hāwera, and Adelaide who is in her final years of education at Nga Tawa Diocesan School, are also passionate about the family farm, says Jane.
"It's very much a family effort, they all spend time on the farm, doing the mahi and helping care for it all."
That mahi being put in on the Alton farm by all five Ropers is something they all hope will inspire and encourage others, says Damian.
"We hope others will take from our experience and feel encouraged to do the same, to leave the land in a better place for future generations."