October 20, 2017

Farmers band together to improve local waterway

Finding the balance between making a profit and farming sustainably has always been at the forefront of Fonterra farmer Paul Warneford’s mind. 

Photo credit - Tipu Whenua

“Swimming in our local rivers, white baiting, doing things us Kiwis love doing, while having a sustainable farming practice is the ultimate goal,” says Paul. 

In 2015, 12 dairy farmers started the Nukuhou North and Waiotahi River Streams Group, aiming to improve the sustainability of their farming operations.

The group was formed after Agri-ecology consultant Alison Dewes spoke to a group of farmers about sustainable farming and finding a sweet spot around environment, profit and production. 

Paul alone spends $40,000 - $60,000 every year on fencing and riparian planting on his 806ha farm. 

“I’ve put wetlands at the ends of all my drains to catch any sediment and have built 20 dams around my farm to help filter any runoff,” says Paul. 

“Wetlands are designed by nature, we just need to enhance them to catch the sediment and disperse the leaching at a slower rate.”

Photo credit - Tipu Whenua

The Bay of Plenty Regional Council supports this work by co-funding riparian fencing, planting and wetland restoration and creation.  The council also monitors water quality improvements in the Nukuhou and Waiotahi Rivers to see where more attention is needed. 

Another member of the Nukuhou North River Stream Group and Fonterra farmer Norman Craig says, “We’ve teamed up with the council to show that we are trying to make a difference. We want to comply with their standards and we encourage them to come out and run tests on our farms.” 

 “We want to find out if some plants are better at filtering than others or if it just looks beautiful,” says Paul. 

Each farmer in the group contributes annually to have their farm’s finances and inputs analysed by external consultant, Alison Dewes, who then produces an environmental and business report. The Bay of Plenty Regional Council also provides up to $1,500 per farm in support. 

Within the next three years, the group aims to identify each farmer’s strengths and how they can learn from each other to reduce their overall impact on the environment. 

“We know the reports are going to show us there are areas we can take action and improve. We’ve all acknowledged this and are ready to change.” 

The Nukuhou River is tested five times per year, and Bay of Plenty Regional Council Land Management Officer, Charles Harley, says the results are showing positive trends.

“While it is improving and trends are heading in the right direction, it’s still a work in progress and the farmers in the area acknowledge this,” says Charles Harley.

In 2015, Nukuhou River won an award for the most improved river and since then has shown meaningful improvement in total nitrogen, E. coli and clarity.