August 21, 2017

Meet Mirka Langford

Sustainable Dairy Advisor (SDA) for Fonterra.

I have been a Sustainable Dairy Advisor (SDA) for Fonterra for five years now, and over that time have seen big changes in how technology is having a positive impact on environmental management on farm. 

Fonterra has the largest team of sustainability advisors in the country, reflecting how seriously the Co-op and its farmers take their environmental responsibilities. SDAs advise farmers on how to meet the Co-op’s and the dairy industry’s guidelines and requirements, working one-on-one with them to assist with a broad range of sustainability-related farm matters. From on farm nutrient management advice to helping set up a farm environment plan. 

I love what I do and enjoy seeing the tremendous effort of our farmers to improve their environmental performance. Farmers share the public’s concern for the environment and understand the importance of farming sustainably. 

There are no one-size-fits-all solutions because every farm is different – the soil type, climates, water catchment, farm set up, and many other factors can all differ. Instead, we work with each farmer individually based on their own ideas, goals and philosophies and work with them to manage their environmental footprint.

In the past, we started with a waterway management programme where we mapped waterways on farm to look at details such as whether they were fenced or not fenced and check how we were tracking with our targets for the Sustainable Dairy Water Accord. 

We’ve built on that and are now moving more towards regional farm environmental plans that address regional-specific needs. This is only possible thanks to the implementation of an innovative Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping technology. GIS technology is designed to capture, manage, analyse and display forms of geographical information visually on a map. This technology is extremely useful in helping to manage and mitigate the environmental impacts of farming. 

It means we’re mapping everything on individual farms, not only waterways but also: nitrogen management blocks; riparian planting (the strip of land between water and the farm); and critical source areas (the small, low-lying parts of farms such as gullies and swales where runoff can accumulate in high concentration).

We’ll be able to use all of that information not only locally for policy discussions but also internationally to help promote provenance. Fonterra’s ‘Trusted Goodness’ quality seal that appears on our products has credibility because of our farmers’ environmental and animal welfare work on farm as well as NZ’s natural grass-fed advantage and our focus on traceability and food safety and quality. 

In terms of the Golden Bay area, I’m currently working with the community, local iwi and our farmer owners to determine what the regional-specific environmental needs are exactly. Proposed plan changes around managing freshwater are going through the Tasman District Council at the moment, based on the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management which provides direction about how local authorities should carry out their responsibilities under the Resource Management Act 1991.

The Freshwater and Land Advisory Group (FLAG) has been meeting for the last three years to work out what the new rules are going to be for land management practices in Golden Bay and what the water quality issues are that need to be addressed.  

I have been right in the middle of those discussions. We’re helping to address some of the issues raised by FLAG and incorporating solutions into our farm plans.

There is a lot of hard work ahead. Through building strong relationships and utilising the latest technology, we’re doing everything we can to ensure our farmers continue to be leaders in sustainable farming practices.