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Getting advice on dairy conversions can help farmers’ bottom line

Farm operators can minimise the environmental impact of dairy conversions by getting expert advice on infrastructure design, says Environment Waikato’s catchment services committee chairman Andra Neeley.

Mrs Neeley - who represents Waipa-King Country where some significant conversions are underway - was speaking in the wake of the recent Waikato Agriculture Summit, where the council and key agriculture leaders committed to doing more to manage farming’s effect on the environment.

"Good design of infrastructure during dairy conversions can help future proof farms from an environmental perspective," said Mrs Neeley.

"Getting sound advice will help conversions reduce the impact of their operations on the health of waterways, such as the Mokau River."

EW’s sustainable agriculture coordinator Gabriele Kaufler said Environment Waikato staff could provide overall advice, while detailed advice on the actual implementation of conversions was available from private consultants.

The advice could cover such things as location of dairy sheds and other infrastructure, which are potential environmental "hot spots".

"We would prefer them to come to us for advice early in the planning process to avoid frustration and unplanned costs further down the track," said Ms Kaufler.

"Staff can help them make informed design decisions that will help protect the value of farmers’ investments and help future proof newly established dairy farms in terms of their environmental impacts."

For example, when it came to preventing shed effluent getting into waterways, EW said farmers needed to consider carefully where dairy sheds were placed.

Their distance to waterways and other sensitive areas needed to be considered carefully, as did the siting of other infrastructure such as effluent storage ponds, feedpads and standoff pads, silage pits, and fuel and agrichemical stores.

"These structures need to be sited at safe distances from waterways and other sensitive areas," said Ms Kaufler.

Farmers also needed to consider whether infrastructure expansion could occur in future while still keeping operations a safe distance from waterways and sensitive areas.

The construction and siting of races, underpasses, culverts and waterway crossings were other matters that had to be planned for and constructed carefully.

Effluent management and storage systems needed to be sized appropriately for the scale of the operation, and all components should be sealed to prevent seepage.

Applying effluent to land was best for nutrient recycling purposes and application systems should be appropriate for the farm’s soil and contour, and the rain fall conditions in that area.

Feedpads, standoff pads and silage pits also needed to be properly sealed, and run-off and leachate from these required good management.

Where resource consents were needed for various activities, Ms Kaufler recommended dairy conversions get applications in early to avoid delays. If people are in doubt regards the need for consents or over any of the issues mentioned above they can contact EW.

"The council is very keen to work closely with conversions to support their efficient and profitable operation in a way that helps protect the environment. Taking such a partnership approach can help create a win-win situation for farmers and the environment."

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