Award winning south Waikato dairy farmer Adrian Ball believes farmers should be excited about the opportunities to improve sustainability on their land.
Ball, who with his wife Pauline has been at Dennley Farms near Tirau for 30 years, says preparation is what flicks the switch to excitement – and he encourages fellow landowners to make full use of the wide range of tools and programmes now available: "I'm really excited about where we can take dairying."
The Balls, who recently won the supreme award in the Waikato Ballance Farm Environment Awards – and then won the national awards out of 11 regional champions – have had considerable success reducing nitrogen leaching from their pasture over the last 10 years from 65kg per hectare to 25kg per hectare.
"It's been a massive change, but we haven't lost profit," he says.
The Balls aim to create value inside the farm gate, by treating their 194ha dairy and bull beef operations - which are three kilometres apart - as one unit.
They have a milking herd of 300 cows and they also finish around 100 head of Charolais and Angus cattle. These come from the dairy farm as a result of them running a zero bobby calf policy for the last four years.
Back in 2003, the couple won a Westpac Dairying Excellence Award with Ball becoming a judge for the next three years: "I could see then that the environment stuff was snowballing," he says.
So they started thinking more carefully about the environmental problems farmers were facing, along with sustainability and social licence.
Their on-farm environmental improvements began with the creation of three duck ponds for duck shooting which then led to fencing of waterways and planting on retired land on both farms.
Ball, a keen runner and cyclist, who has competed in the one-day Coast to Coast race, has used the Waihou River, which borders their drystock farm, as a training ground: "You build up a deep connection with the river and what's going on in the environment," he says.
Fences have been set back over 20m on that property to allow for revegetation with both the Waikato Regional Council and the South Waikato Environment Fund supporting planting work.
They also lowered their stocking rate and now use fertiliser in a smarter way than they used to, he says. By working closely with nutrient suppliers they make sure the right fertiliser goes on at the correct time of year.
Soil testing is carried out on pasture on alternate years and annually on their cropping land. This has resulted in the reduction of nitrogen leaching and has seen greenhouse gas emissions lowered from 25 tonnes (C02 equivalent per ha) to 10.6 tonnes.
That in part is due to their hybrid system of aligning the dairy and bull beef operations more closely together, ensuring greater self-sufficiency.
This will be boosted a great deal by their beef steep hill country land being planted up over the coming years as part of the one billion trees initiative, he believes.
Ball is a big fan of independent auditing which he sees being increasingly necessary to produce the evidence required to back up future gains.
He believes in their case they're hitting Dairy Tomorrow Strategy 2025 targets already, and it will be hard to make further environmental gains.
But they're working towards doing so by fine-tuning their cropping operation by running trials for new crops and practices they hope will reduce their farms' environment footprint even further.
The Balls are also looking to introduce more energy saving and cost-effective infrastructure. The bull beef block already relies entirely on solar power to run its electric fencing.
"It's just a case of farmers playing their part," Ball says. "The Vision is Clear is something they've got to grab hold of."
The Balls have also won the Ballance Agri-Nutrients Soil Management Award, the DairyNZ Sustainability and Stewardship Award, the Massey University Innovation Award and the Waikato Regional Council Water Protection Award.
The Balls won the national supreme farm environment award from the 11 regional winners at the National Sustainability Showcase in Hamilton on June 6.