Fonterra employs a nationwide team of SDAs who work one-on-one with farmers if they have any on-farm environmental issues or queries, including nutrient limits, water use, effluent management and riparian planting. As the largest team of sustainability advisors in the country, Fonterra SDAs help farmers meet both the Co-op’s and the dairy industry’s guidelines and requirements.
I’ve been an SDA for approximately three and a half years. Before that, I worked in the Northland Regional Council’s farm dairy effluent consent department, then in the monitoring department for farm dairy effluent. This experience has proved valuable when it comes to helping farmers navigate the process of meeting regional council regulations.
I guess you could say that it’s one of my strengths and each SDA generally has an area they are stronger in than others, whether it’s nutrient management, land management or the like. For me its council processes and frameworks, helping farmers so they don’t feel too overwhelmed by the regulations they are required to meet. Having said that, for most farmers it’s not about what they have to do, it’s what they want to do. They really care about the land and they recognise that being environmentally sustainable is in their best interests.
While I’m not from a farming background and was originally quite shy and reserved, my career choices have thrust me out of my shell and into the thick of face-to-face advisory roles. I enjoy building relationships and trust with the 500 farmers in my ‘patch’
My time at the regional council gave me a good understanding of the many challenges that farmers face. I feel comfortable talking to them about any environmental issue that concerns them, and I can do this due to my experience to date and the training and career development Fonterra provides.
A big part of my job is about helping farmers understand that I’m there to support them and recognising the pressures and stresses they are often working under.
Farmers have a lot on their plates and need to be proficient in a number of areas, like a ‘jack of all trades’. Many of these areas are my bread and butter and I’m able to speak openly and honestly to help them find solutions to an issue they might have or a change they want to make. It’s a really rewarding part of my job.
I think the pace of change is the biggest challenge farmers are currently facing. With regulations and requirements evolving or new ones being introduced some farmers want advice about what they need to do right away and what can wait, or be managed over time.
When finances on the farm are stretched, it can be stressful for farmers to consider where they need to commit cash if they have to upgrade or modify their equipment or systems. My job is to help them make decisions about where and when they should commit their resources.
Our Northland farmers did it tough in recent years due to low global milk prices. But they stayed committed to their sustainability obligations. Upgrades to effluent systems continue, waterways fencing progressed and participation in Fonterra’s nitrogen programme rose from around 38 percent three years ago to 78 percent today.
I’m expecting the 2017/18 season will see our farmers continue to step it up and build on where we’ve got to. They share the public’s concern for good environmental practices and want to keep improving their performance.