When your drinking water comes out of a river and you like to swim in rivers, then being a dairy farmer with award-winning environmental stewardship comes naturally.
Manawatu-Whanganui region dairy farmers Andrew Hardie and Helen Long's Te Maunga Farm is bounded by two rivers – the Manawatu and Mangatewainui rivers – and their property has hosted some significant environmental work.
Long says clean water is very important to the family because they love swimming, and draw all their drinking water and stock water from the Mangatewainui.
"It's great to see clear water, with no algae growth or slime," Hardie says.
The couple won four awards earlier this year in the recent Ballance Farm Environment Awards for their work for the environment and the success of their farming business.
Their awards are for the Horizons region and are: the 2018 Regional Supreme Award, DairyNZ Sustainability and Stewardship Award, Hill Laboratories Agri-Science Award and WaterForce Integrated Management Award.
Hardie says it was a real buzz winning the awards, adding that water quality is a collaborative effort and everyone along a water course plays a part, not just dairy farming.
The biggest contributor to water quality improvement from dairy farming is excluding stock from waterways. The couple excluded all their stock from major waterways in 1999, their first year on Te Maunga farm. Since then they have fenced more and more of the smaller streams and more of the ephemeral streams (which run only part of the year).
Currently 97 per cent of all significant dairy streams in New Zealand are planted and fenced and dairy farmers are working toward full stock exclusion.
The couple's property, north-east of Dannevirke, is diverse – of 420ha, only 300ha is in grass. The rest is planted in pines (40ha), native bush (30ha), shelter belts and fenced riparian areas (35ha). They milk 700 once-a-day cows on a 240ha milking platform, and have an 80ha runoff.
Hardie and Long plan to continue fencing off and planting marginal areas. They also want to build structured wetlands at every outlet – drains and water courses – because wetlands are so good at filtering water.
The couple also want to put QE2 covenants over a number of areas. Long says it's absolutely vital they pass on a property that is in excellent environmental shape.
"One of the really big things for us is our adult children love bringing their city friends home and showing them around the farm, swimming in the river and showing them the animals. It's about bringing city and rural together. We love seeing that."
She says their work has to be a balance between business, family and environment: "Our business has to be financially secure. If it isn't you can't do a lot of these environmental initiatives."
Results from Horizons Regional Council earlier this year showed improving trends in monitoring sites on the region's rivers including the Mangatewainui River, which collects water from the couple's farm and other farms upstream.
Hardie says it's encouraging to see continually improving results but adds: "We can all do a little better though."
He says it's great to see farmers working together and sharing information and tips on their stewardship of the land. DairyNZ and other organisations run field days to help farmers learn about environmental initiatives and share tools to help.
"The best advantage of farmers working together and learning from each other is the support it provides. If it becomes common knowledge it's not that hard, people get encouraged and the whole community get behind you. It's like team support.
"There are a lot of people doing good work and the more word gets out about that, the more people will come on board," says Hardie.
"If we collectively keep going, it's only going to get better. Actions we're taking now will show up in improved water quality in the future. Technology will also have a big part to play in solving some of the environmental challenges in the future.
"The better we look after the resource, the better and more valuable it will be not only for this generation but future generations."