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Working together for water

On this page: Smart strategies for water, working the strips, farming to the land, managing effluent and nutrients

Photo of water meterSmart strategies for water

Smart use of water can help farmers cut both their pumping costs - and reduce pressure on the enviroment - by cutting demand for water and lowering the volume of dairy effluent theey need to manage.

Some examples:

Water meters Meters help farmers keep track of how much water they’re
using, where there are opportunities for savings and where
problems are occurring.
Valves and taps Having frequent taps or valves on water lines allows leaking
sections to be isolated easily and repaired, rather than having
to shut down major parts of the system to fix things.
Warning systems and
leak detectors
These allow farmers to get on to problems promptly.
Recycling Use of cooling water for washdown or stock water, re-using
heated water to clean up equipment and irrigating pasture
with washdown water are all good ways of recycling water.
Rainwater capture Capturing and storing rainwater for yard washdown is another
valuable option.
Automation Automating systems – such as ensuring cooling water is only
being supplied when necessary – helps reduce demand.
Good storage Purpose built storage systems help ensure these opportunities
can be exploited fully.

Photo of riparian fencingWorking the strips

Stock-proof fencing and well-sized and well-planted riparian strips help keep bacteria, nutrients and sediment from farming operations out of waterways.

  • All waterways, lakes, ponds and wetlands on livestock farms should be fenced off if there’s a chance of stock getting into them.
  • The width of riparian strips needed to be effective depends on the slope and intensity of land use.
  • On flat land, three metres is generally enough but on hilly or highly erodible land a wider margin is recommended.
  • A strip of close ground cover vegetation should be maintained to help filter out any bacteria, nutrients and sediment. Rank
    pasture grass is good for this, while native carex and other grasses are also useful.
  • Well designed plantings will make maintenance and weed control easier.
  • It’s best to plant densely and to only plant as much as you can maintain weed control on until canopy closure (the point where
    plant growth is enough to block out light, suppressing weed growth).

Photo of cowsFarming to the land

A key way of helping prevent sediment and nutrients getting into waterways is to farm according to geography of the land, soil types and their capabilities, and the likely impact of stock on soil condition and erosion.

Understanding these factors helps assess the risks to waterways and how to best manage them. Generally speaking it’s best to focus production on the most versatile flat land. Planting of trees (for timber or carbon credits) on steep and erodible land is a good option. Steep, unstable or dry slopes – which bacteria, nutrients and sediment can wash off into waterways - are often unprofitable to maintain in pasture anyway.

Stock management should take into account the impact animals will have on pasture, and the potential for problems like erosion and pugging (which can increase run off from the land).

Protect soils from damage by stock or erosion to safeguard the farm’s “production engine”.

The visual soil assessment (available at www.landcareresearch.co.nz/research/soil/vsa/) and nutrient testing help monitor soil condition.

Photo of dairy shedManaging effluent and nutrients

 A well designed and implemented nutrient management plan (NMP) – including effluent management systems – will help individual farmers maximise profits and minimise their environmental impact.

Use of an accredited effluent design company is recommended when developing or changing effluent systems (see www.effluentaccreditation.co.nz/).

If they’re to be effective, it’s important that advisors ensure NMPs are properly understood by farmers.

Nitrogen (N) losses from pasture come largely from urine patches where the concentration of N is greater than pasture can use. This is especially so in wet and cold conditions. Minimising the time that animals spend on wet, cold pasture reduces pasture damage,
soil damage, runoff, erosion and nutrient losses.

To help keep effluent from running off to water, stock should be kept off wet pasture where possible, with as much of their effluent as possible captured for irrigation purposes from the dairy shed, stand-off pad and feed pad.

Having well-designed and adequate effluent storage capacity is crucial for getting the most benefit from this resource.

Design of the system and its storage requirements should be carried out by an accredited effluent design company.

Tips for keeping nutrients in the root zone of pasture include only applying what the plants can use when they are actively growing and not applying effluent or fertiliser when it’s raining or the ground is saturated and cold.

For more information call the council’s Environmental Farming Systems team on 0800 800 401 or have a look at our For Farmers webpages.