The past year has been a greatly challenging one for dairy farmers but a lot has been learned, especially regarding biosecurity, Dairy Holdings Ltd chief executive Colin Glass says.

''Just over a year ago we had a change of government on the back of the debate on water-quality [before] the election.

''You have to say there has been a degree of engagement about what farmers should and shouldn't do on the land since then.

''Farmers now get those responsibilities and you're seeing a massive change.''


As well as these issues, Glass, who is also on the DairyNZ board, said things had become more challenging financially, with tighter controls on money and dairy businesses that took on more debt now being asked to repay.

''There are a lot more challenges on dairy farms than there were a year ago.

''We've also got a clear signal that farmers have to do the right thing with their local communities. Farmers get that. No-one is in denial.''

In the midst of this he said they had to battle with the Mycoplasma bovis incursion.

''It's been devastating and has heightened awareness about biosecurity, and that's key.

''There's been a lot of systems farms have put in place that last year would not have been thought of as being necessary.

''We realise biosecurity is very important.

''Dairy farmers in other parts of the world just do it.

''Now that we've got that awareness, the challenge is how we step over compliance with Nait.

''New Zealand hasn't had to endure this before and we're aware improvements are required.

''We know next time we will do things differently and better.

''The challenge is what we learn so when the next incursion comes along we'll be effective.''

He expected most dairy farms would end the year with a profit.

''If not they have to make changes pretty quickly, but most farmers should be OK.''

He said the multiple challenges farmers were facing could seem overwhelming.

''There are a lot of farms on the market.''

With $1billion in assets, Dairy Holdings Ltd is New Zealand's largest corporate dairy farmer. The company has 75 farms, of which 16 are grazing farms, and 59 dairy.

Of the latter, a total of 54 farms supply Fonterra, making Dairy Holdings Fonterra's largest supplier.

All the farms are in the South Island and mainly in Canterbury, where M. bovis has made the biggest impact.

But Dairy Holdings has been fortunate.

''We've had no incursions, although we've had quite a number of near escapes,'' Glass said.

''There is a need to be ever vigilant - you only have to err once.

''Attention to details is really, really important.''

As for the New Year, Glass said the sector had to be positive in its outlook.

''We've been through a dream period of growth and I think we've got to back ourselves to be adaptable.

''We've shown we can be resilient but sometimes we talk ourselves down.''

Up until June this year Dairy Holdings had its head office in Timaru, but it has since relocated to Ashburton.

''We've still got admin staff in Timaru; it was simply a matter of logistics; we need to be nearer our farms and irrigation.''

- Central Rural Life