Not for sale

Farm wetland restoration and environmental thinking taken up by second generation.

Kimberly Dyer used to believe that one woman couldn't make a big difference to the environment.

"But doing nothing is never the answer," the Waikato sharemilker says.

Attending the DairyNZ Dairy Environmental Leaders Forum in Wellington in December showed her just how oblivious she was to many different farmer-led projects under way around the country. That fired her enthusiasm for planting and wetland restoration work being carried out on her parents, Steve and Lynette's 120 hectare property at Okoroire, just south of Matamata.

"Dad had already done a lot of work and used to drag us down there when we were at school to help with planting," she said. "But we were always happy to come."

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She studied ecology at Massey University, where she met partner, Jen Waterhouse. While Kimberly found work for a Rotorua company involved in vegetation monitoring, before managing a 550-cow farm north of Matamata for two seasons, Jen joined the Department of Conservation (DOC) where she still works part-time.

It wasn't really Kimberly's plan to come back to the family farm until six seasons ago when her father, who also has kiwifruit orchards in the Bay of Plenty, made it clear this was his intention. After two seasons on the 110ha effective farm, they bought the existing 400-cow crossbred herd which for 2019/20 is expected to produce around 170,000kg of milk solids.

Her parents switched from supplying Fonterra to Open Country Dairy for just one season then to Miraka, based near Taupo, when it started up operations.

"They're really good because they introduce new things but it's a slow integration so you don't feel forced to do anything," she said. "And there's plenty of support available."

Company farm consultants visit a couple of times each year, environmental advice is just a phone call away and supplier feedback is regularly sought. Under Te Ara Miraka (The Miraka Way) its farming excellence programme, its mission is to be recognised globally as best practice for sustainability and innovation.

It wants to show leadership in sustainable and efficient milk production, bringing greater profitability to farmers and the company, with a lower environmental footprint. The key drivers cover environmental sustainability, animal welfare, food safety, traceability and milk quality assurance with independent audits regularly carried out.

A 20 per cent payout incentive encourages farmers to meet standards under the Te Ara Miraka model's five pou or pillars; Nga Kau (cows), Miraka (milk), Nga Tangata (people), Te Taiao (environment) and Taurikura (prosperity).

She and Jen run a reasonably high input farm, growing around 10ha of maize and buying in a little more to use on their feedpad. They're gradually reducing use of palm kernel.

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Up to 5ha of chicory is grown as a summer crop every year to feed to half the calves which remain on the farm. With no runoff, the rest go to a Rotorua grazier, returning as heifers.

The less productive half of the farm receives no nitrogen fertiliser, based on advice from a soil ecologist brought in some years ago to deal with issues including a black beetle problem. The positive results now show through in pasture and animal health as well as improved drought resistance.

There are a number of springs and drains on the farm and all but a handful now have their margins planted. Since Dyer and Waterhouse have come on to the farm, they've been closely involved in discussions about which areas to tackle next.

A Tauranga contractor who propagates his own cabbage trees, coprosma and flax, plants them out in autumn with good establishment rates. Kahikatea go into the wetter areas of the 10ha.

"Next we will start planting the steeper sidlings we plan to retire," Kimberly said."And there's another 5ha which we could do."

She's keen to help out other dairy farmers in the area – a priority catchment under the Government's Essential Freshwater plans, on which she made a submission.

"There are a lot of positive farmers who embrace change, but you wouldn't think so from some of the negative views online," she said. "People are aware but they don't quite know what they have to do so they can fear change."

She believes the solution is being as well informed as possible and finding out all that's known about proposed changes early on in the process, so pre-emptive action can be taken.

"Otherwise people can get disheartened and think their opinion doesn't matter."

Too much on-farm environmental improvement has already been achieved to turn back now, she believes, and that can only help with New Zealand's primary produce branding to overseas customers.