I’ve always had an interest in environmental sustainability and the first part of my career I was working at councils in Canterbury and England. Over the past six years I’ve seen a huge amount of work being done by our farmers as well as at Fonterra, where we’ve worked to provide our farmers with advice and support to help them with on-farm sustainability.
As digital tools progress, the pace of change is increasing and relationships are changing too. Having worked in councils and for our Co-op, I would say the respective teams on the ground are more collaborative than in the past and often work together.
In Canterbury, we’ve seen some great work done by our farmers to set their farms up for a sustainable future. They’re industry leaders in this area and we’re now working on giving them additional tools to go even further. One of our biggest challenges is that every region is different and within each region, every farm is different – soil type, climate, water catchment, farm set up and many other factors. The right solutions for one farm won’t necessarily be the best options for another and it takes time to create tailored solutions. But that is what we need to do because it will give each farmer and their local community the best long-term outcome.
In delivering these solutions, we’re developing tools and services that put our farmers at the cutting edge. One example is using our geographic information system (GIS) data to deliver live Farm Environment Plans to our farmers. We can identify risks on the farm, specify actions to mitigate these and update the plans as actions are taken. These plans are tailor-made for each farm and can be used to satisfy regulatory obligations as well as increasing farm business resilience. This is all at no direct cost to our farmers.
The tools and offerings we have are helping our farmers not only meet industry standards but in many instances, exceed them. We’re in a good place in Canterbury. With environmental limits now largely set, farmers have certainty around the standards they have to meet and sensible timeframes to meet them.
We know that many environmental issues and answers are complex, but some of the science that’s going on to reduce the environmental footprint of dairy is exciting. We’re seeing promising progress with new types of grasses and breeds of cows, which will reduce the amount of nitrogen going into the ground.
Thanks to technology and the dedication of our farmers, I believe the progress we will make over the next couple of years will be far greater than what we’ve already achieved. We’re working faster and smarter than we were two years ago. I’m excited about the strides our farmers are taking towards what all New Zealanders want and what our Co-op is committed to achieving – swimmable waterways.