Evaluating and supporting farmers

In New Zealand, every supplying farm is visited each year by an independent party to complete an assessment against a detailed protocol covering minimum requirements and some future-looking items. The assessment protocol changes gradually over time with new criteria introduced initially as observations only.

The current assessment covers food safety and quality, animal health and welfare, and environmental topics including effluent management systems, stock exclusion from waterways, and riparian, nitrogen and water management processes.

On all farms where it is identified that requirements are not being met, our Sustainable Dairying Advisors (SDAs) develop an action plan with the farmer which includes target dates for completion. We may also suspend the collection of milk until we are satisfied that all minimum requirements are being met and that any actions required to avoid a repeat of the issue have been completed.

Over the past season, 9,891 farms were assessed. Of these, major or critical hazards were identified on 318 farms – 3.2 percent of assessed farms. Major or critical hazards are identified where there is a significant risk of environmental damage, or where actual damage is found to be occurring.

The three most frequent issues identified through the assessments were ponding and run-off from irrigation, improper cleaning of sand traps and effluent not being captured correctly into the management system. In the past season, we suspended the collection of milk from 78 farms, allowing to non-completion of fencing to exclude stock from waterways.


In the year ending 31 July 2018 our target is to complete 1,000 FEPs.


This year 95% of our suppliers submitted their nutrient budgets and received a nitrogen report.


Fonterra operates a network of 65 Farm Source stores throughout New Zealand.

Farm dairy assessments 
  2015/15 2015/16 2016/17  
Percentage of farms with effluent infrastructure capable of 365-day compliance  78% 75% 82%  
Percentage of farms referred to SDAs with major or critical non-compliances 4.20% 3.40% 3.20%  

Evaluating farm performance - farm dairy assessments


Over the past five years, our farmers have made significant investments in environmental improvements on their farms. This reflects their recognition of the cumulative effects of some farming practices on our waterways. These investments have come ahead of regional councils setting environmental limits for water on behalf of their communities and, in some places, before the land and water science for specific catchments was clear.

Now that limit-setting processes are underway in some regions, new land and water science are becoming available and farmers are getting certainty around what standards have to be met to achieve healthy freshwater, and under what time frames.

Farm Environment Plans (FEPs) help farmers meet these new limits. This year we piloted a new FEP service in collaboration with Waikato Federated Farmers to help farmers prepare for the proposed Waikato Regional Plan Change.

A farmer’s FEP is unique to their farm. It includes a farm map and photographs of critical locations around the farm. FEPs identify areas of existing strength and priority areas for action; for example, specific changes to reduce sediment, bacteria or nutrients from entering waterways, including groundwater.

We have a long-standing sustainable dairying programme, which took a world-leading position in 2004 when it introduced independent assessments for every farm each year. This year we launched the Tiaki Sustainable Dairying Programme.

Tiaki means to look after, to guard, to care for, keep and nurture. To accompany the name, we have crafted a whakataukī (proverb):

‘Tiakina te whenua i tēnei rā, kia whai oranga tangata mō ngā rā e heke mai nei’.

It means...

‘Caring for the land today so that the land cares for us tomorrow.’

This gets to the heart of what we are striving to do when it comes to our land and natural resources.

The programme builds on our work from the past 13 years. It also recognises that each region and farm has individual requirements. Through Tiaki our farmers can tap into specialised regional expertise and services to support best-practice farm management, proactively staying ahead of regulatory requirements, and future-proofing their farm so that we can satisfy evolving consumer and market expectations.

Our farmers have delivered substantial progress on the food safety and quality requirements that relate to their farms, animal health and welfare, and managing their impact on the environment.

Through Tiaki we offer our farmers resources, such as our digital farm management tools and support services provided by our team of SDAs, which help them improve the sustainability of their farms. In 2018 we intend to expand our investment in farmer support, increasing the number of SDAs to 30.

We recognise the importance of technology and innovation in enabling sustainable farming solutions. Many of our farmers are starting to embrace the precision farming future, using sensing and monitoring technology to measure and track farm inputs and outputs to maximise productivity and minimise environmental impacts.

To support our farmers and the services our SDAs provide to them, we have developed a software system using GPS mapping technology. Initially, this focused on mapping the land used for dairy farming and recording all permanent waterways including their crossing points. It was extended to include details on underlying soil types and the different uses of management blocks on the farm to support nutrient management modelling. For riparian management and critical source identification, it now covers the ability to plan and track progress on riparian management. This includes the storage of photographs tagged to specific locations showing changes over time.

Another example of new technology is the launch this year of Agrigate, an online tool jointly developed by Farm Source, Fonterra’s farmer-facing business unit, and the New Zealand Livestock Improvement Corporation. This tool aggregates data from across a farmer’s business into a single view, providing an online dashboard to enable smarter and faster decisions. The dashboard provides insights into the interactions between different aspects of the farming system, including weather conditions, animal health, milk production, pasture cover, fertiliser use and financials.

  • Improved productivity

  • Less deforestation

  • Breakthrough technologies

Improved productivity

Continuing to improve on-farm productivity remains the best area to focus on. Examples include:

  • Caring for animals throughout their lives not only improves the quality of the milk they produce it also sees each cow produce more milk over a longer life.
  • Improving nutrient management not only reduces the risk of nutrients entering waterways, it also decreases the amount of bought-in fertiliser needed to achieve the same level of production; as a result, this reduces the production of nitrous oxide.
Less deforestation

Change of land use that results in deforestation to support dairying contributes to our GHG emissions and is included in our estimates. This can arise from new conversions to dairy or as a consequence of growing supplementary feeds. Farmers are able to make a difference by:

  • Making use of existing pasture land, rather than converting it from forestry.
  • Reducing their use of supplementary feeds which are associated with deforestation or ensuring it is only purchased from sustainable sources.
  • Increasing planting on marginal land not suitable for dairy farming to reverse prior deforestation.
Breakthrough technologies

We continue to invest in research and development, primarily through the Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium (PGgRC), to identify breakthrough technologies which can provide a step reduction in the biological emissions produced by dairy cows. Some examples being investigated include:

  • Breeding of cows that produce less GHG emissions.
  • Vaccines that can be given to cows to reduce their GHG emissions.
  • Inhibitors which can be administered through supplemental feeds to reduce their GHG emissions.
Nutrient budgets and nitrogen reporting

Most of our Sustainable Dairying Advisors are Certified Nutrient Management Advisors who can help our farmers review their nutrient budgets and identify changes on farms that can help reduce nutrient loss and improve profitability.

By combining the detailed information our farmers collect on their farming activities with standard modeling tools and our own information, we can provide them with detailed reports. These include estimates of their farm nitrogen losses and efficiency, their nitrous oxide emissions and their performance relative to other local farmers.

This year, 95 percent of our suppliers submitted their nutrient budgets and received a nitrogen report. Our focus now is on helping our farmers make use of the information to achieve year-on-year improvements.

Fonterra Farm Source™ stores

Fonterra operates a network of over 65 Farm Source stores throughout New Zealand. These stores offer services and support to our farmers and operate as retail farm supply stores for our farmers and the wider public. Farm Source is a fully-owned subsidiary and is covered by the same management systems and policies as our other operations.