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Published: 2008-11-07 00:00:00

Dairy giant Fonterra and Environment Waikato officials have met ahead of next week’s Waikato Agriculture Summit to start developing an agreement about what future environmentally sustainable dairying in the region should look like.

"The purpose of this week’s discussions was to start developing a joint vision that the industry can align itself to," said EW chairman Peter Buckley, a dairy farmer and former Waikato Federated Farmers president.

Next week’s Waikato Agriculture Summit is bringing together a wide range of groups interested in discussing how to make agriculture more sustainable in the region. It has been organised following the recent water and soil report from the council which highlighted the impact intensifying agriculture has been having on the environment.

Dairying can affect the environment through farm nutrients and bacterial flows getting into waterways, and through farming’s impact on soil quality.

Cr Buckley said EW’s meeting with Fonterra this week was a useful forerunner to discussions at the summit.

"Regional councils use various methods such as education, advice and regulation to help protect the environment from farming’s impacts. Dairy companies will have other tools, such as economic and educational ones, and ongoing world leading research, that they might use to help ensure environmental sustainability and profitability for their industry."

Cr Buckley stressed much good work had already been done by farmers and the dairy industry to reduce agriculture’s environmental impacts. This included the development of the Dairying and Clean Streams Accord, and a Dairy Industry Strategy for Sustainable Environmental Management which has targeted nutrient losses to water.

One of the key areas where EW and industry are working together for the future is on the implications of dairying generally, but particularly in the Waikato River catchment between Taupo and Karapiro.

Fonterra and fertiliser companies have recently written to 700 dairy landowners in the area stressing the need for all farms to have nutrient management plans to help lessen the impact farming operations have on waterways.

The aim of this new and large-scale Upper Karapiro Nutrient Management Project is to measure nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) flows, both on and off farm, and recommend best management practices farmers can use to reduce N and P loss.

"This project is an opportunity to show that farmers in the region are moving to measure and manage nutrient losses from their farms and can achieve necessary change without further external regulation," said Fonterra’s director of milk supply Barry Harris.

"It will also provide our farmers with more information on how major nutrients can be better managed to achieve the best pasture growth.

"While Upper Karapiro farmers will be the first to utilise this service, the project may eventually be offered to all dairy farmers in New Zealand," Mr Harris said.

The project aligns with other work programmes that EW, Dairy NZ, AgResearch and other agencies are involved with as they try to find ways of reducing the footprint of the dairy industry in the river catchment.

Meanwhile, Cr Buckley said that, at the meeting with EW this week, Fonterra indicated that it wanted any changes to sustainable agriculture policy to be very clear and promote accountability on-farm so the industry had solid targets to work toward.

"We, too, want to shape a very clear path for the future," said Cr Buckley. "The work we are doing with the company, and the discussions we hold at next week’s summit, will help us greatly in finding the best ways to manage the situation."