Nine years of steady targeted investment has transformed John Hayward and Susan O'Regan's Te Awamutu dairy farm into a sustainable business well placed to weather the changing environmental compliance regulations facing New Zealand's agri sector.

They set out with a bold ambition — to be New Zealand's most sustainable dairy farm — and to do that they needed to completely change the way they farmed.

Across their 240ha they've regenerated 11 wetlands, fenced waterways and replanted riparian strips.

They've reduced their cow numbers, and their environmental footprint, and by the end of next year reckon they'll be completely self-sufficient and won't need to bring in any extra feed … all while running a productive and profitable dairy farm.

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John and Susan identified that the biggest issue with their land was sediment loss, which needed to be mitigated, along with phosphate and E.coli loss.

Working with the Waikato Regional Council they got a land capability report which mapped the farm, different soil types and land classification.

Along with a farm environment plan, this helped identify land less suitable for stock grazing, and meant they could look for opportunities to get more value from what was classed as fairly marginal land.

Fifteen hectares of class seven land was "retired" and planted in mānuka, at a cost of about $2000 per hectare, some of this is used for honey production for Comvita. Another 5ha was planted in pine.

This allowed them to drop their nitrogen footprint, and the trees have also been signed up for carbon credits and in time will allow the couple to offset the carbon footprint of their business.

Two sediment dams help control sediment loss while growing their own maize and installing a feed pad gives them more control over costs, enabling them to focus on higher productivity from fewer cows and farm more intensively on land better suited to grazing.

The couple estimate they've spent on average $30,000 annually over nine years on environmental initiatives and while it's difficult to put a value on the investment now, long-term it will protect and grow the value of their land.