Tuesday, 30 June 2020 07:55

Farmers up their game

Written by  Sudesh Kissun
Cows in a muddy paddock in Southland last year. Photo: Angus Robson. Cows in a muddy paddock in Southland last year. Photo: Angus Robson.

A Waikato environmentalist who led a public campaign against poor winter grazing practices on Southland farms says farmers are making improvements.

Angus Robson, who recently visited Southland farms “just for a look”, is happy with progress being made.

He told Rural News that following the public campaign farmers are looking at winter grazing “with a new set of eyes”.

“Lots of things have improved…it is a journey and we expect more improvements this season,” he says.

Last year’s campaign highlighted cows in knee-deep mud while feeding on winter crops, fodder beet and kale. The campaign included drone footage.

Environment Southland, which launched its first surveillance flight over Southland farms this month, is also reporting improved winter grazing practices.

Environment Southland chief executive Rob Phillips says early observations from the preliminary flight suggest a better uptake of good management practices, such as fencing of waterways and the creation of buffer zones, with no immediate compliance concerns identified.

“I’m encouraged by what we’ve seen. Farmers appear to have made a real effort, which is exactly what we need. 

“We are mindful that it’s still early in the season and this was only a preliminary flight to get an indication of any issues. Wet weather is inevitable and while this will present challenges, we expect farmers to continue their focus on good wintering practice.”

Robson says he visited dairy farms two weeks ago and was accompanied by Federated Farmers Southland president Geoffrey Young to some farms.

“We visited some farms with Federated Farmers and visited some farms ourselves. We also had conversations with some progressive farmers in the region.”

Robson praised Federated Farmers for launching a 0800 number where anyone can report farms with poor winter grazing practices. The Feds send a support crew to the farm to help the farmer with winter grazing practices.

He says most poor winter grazing practices can been seen from the road but acknowledged drones were used on some farms.

“Ninety per cent of farms can be seen from the road; we do get some drone footage supplied by other parties.”

Environment Southland inspected 145 farms from the air last season. It advised farmers last year that winter grazing practices needed to be significantly improved. A taskforce made up of the council,  DairyNZ, Beef+Lamb New Zealand, Federated Farmers, MfE and MPI, was set up to help address the issues.

Phillips said agriculture in Southland is very important to the regional and national economies, but that some farming practices, if not done well, negatively impact water quality. 

“Winter grazing is a high risk activity with regard to water quality and all farmers need to undertake good management practice.”

Phillips says staff are still working through the information and photos gathered during this month’s flight.

“At this stage it looks like we will be looking to arrange follow up advice for a handful of properties that could be at risk of winter grazing issues in wetter weather.”

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