Words and images supply by Tony Finch, DairyNZ South Island Head.
At DairyNZ, the 2020 year is off to a busy start, as we continue to work on a range of activities and projects to support farmers.
Our work in Canterbury is guided by our regional plan which was developed with input from farmers. The plan identified key priority areas for DairyNZ to focus on: protecting the environment and improving how dairy is viewed by the public, while building resilient farms; and attracting and maintaining a skilled dairy workforce.
These focus areas have guided the development of regional projects such as the Selwyn Hinds project. This involves working with 50 partner farms across Selwyn and Hinds to identify options farmers can adopt to reduce their nitrogen losses and continue to farm successfully. Each farm is choosing options that fit best with their goals and farm system. We have seen farms adjust their use of irrigation, incorporate plantain or catch crops into their farming system, and change the timing of their fertiliser applications. There’s also a range of other changes happening on-farm.
What’s been really pleasing is that through hosting field days and discussion group sessions, as well as events for rural professionals, the innovation happening on partner farms is being shared with farms right across Selwyn and Hinds. The changes taking place on farms are also able to be adopted in areas across Canterbury and into other regions of New Zealand where farms want to reduce their nitrogen losses. As this project continues, we plan to keep supporting partner farms to continue sharing their knowledge and practical advice with other farmers.
The project team who worked on our long-running FRNL (Forages for Reduced Nitrate Leaching) programme were delighted to receive a significant achievement award for their work recently. Over 100 people across several organisations, and ten commercial farms were involved in this project trialling different crops with the aim to reduce nitrate leaching. The research from this programme has been shared widely at field days and conferences, and many farmers have been following the programme and incorporating forage crops into their farm system. Today, the options trialled through the programme are being used on farms as part of the Selwyn Hinds project. FRNL is one of DairyNZ’s many levy funded research programmes which are now being applied on farms to achieve real world goals.
We know that the proposals in the Essential Freshwater package have been a major concern for many farmers in Canterbury and nationally. DairyNZ spent a huge amount of time late last year working on a submission on behalf of all dairy farmers, and we really appreciated the time farmers invested into making sure their voices were heard. With more than 17,000 submissions received on the proposals - many of which are from farmers - we know that the government received a clear message about the concerns you have. We are continuing to work on your behalf on this issue, and on finding practical solutions to meet changing regulations that can be implemented on-farm.
A major challenge for Canterbury farmers continues to be attracting and retaining capable farm staff. We have a very tight labour supply market across greater Canterbury with unemployment levels at around 2% in many areas. To access employees, many farmers are relying on using experienced migrant workers.
DairyNZ has been undertaking a lot of work over the past year with the government and ImmigrationNZ to highlight the urgent need we have in Canterbury for migrant workers to fill places on farm.
We are pleased that the government has recognised the need for change. From June 2020, a range of changes will start being introduced. ANZSCO (Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations) will be removed and hourly wages will be used as a proxy for skill level. Above $25.50 per hour will be recognised as higher skilled - below this is lower skilled. All migrants on employer assisted visas will be able to bring their families, who can then apply for a work visa in their own right. Another significant win is that in lower labour supply regions, including Canterbury (outside Christchurch), lower skilled visas can be for up to three years. This will help employers and migrants make future plans with greater certainty. You can read more about the changes to temporary visas online at www.immigration.govt.nz/work-visa-changes
In February, we held a People Expo for farmers and farm staff in Dunsandel. We hosted a series of workshops on how to achieve greater independence, efficiency and cohesion amongst farm teams. This was very well received by farmers. The Expo also saw the launch of a new ‘Good Boss’ campaign. This aims to share knowledge about what makes a good boss. It also acknowledges that we all have something to learn and provides farmers with tools and resources they can use to assess how they are doing and how they can become a better boss.
In March, we hosted our Canterbury Farmers’ Forum near Lincoln and presented new research on the use of flexible milking. While the project is only in its early stages, the results from a Lincoln University Research Dairy Farm have been exciting. We are already seeing some farms shift to ‘three in two’ milking for part of the season. The early results from the project indicate that the shift may be able to occur earlier in the season - or for the whole season - with a relatively small impact on milk production. This is one option for farmers who are facing challenges filling roles, or who want to offer more flexible work hours. This project will continue over the next two years, with trials planned of flexible milking on commercial farms.
We have also seen a lot of interest in DairyNZ’s MilkSmart programme in Canterbury. Last year we hosted a MilkSmart field day which was well attended. We have seen many farms who have adopted MilkSmart practices being able to reduce milking times by an average of an hour per day as a result of making this change. Spending less time in the shed allows more time for strategic thinking, and also some valuable family time.
One thing I have noticed about farms in Canterbury is that farmers are keen to continue improving the way they operate and create ever more efficient businesses. We have seen many farms take part in DairyNZ’s FarmTune programme. The workshops are an opportunity for farm teams to share ideas on how to save time and money by identifying what’s not working well, and come up with better solutions to use on-farm.
Finally, we recognise that it’s not been an easy start to 2020. We have seen flooding in Mid Canterbury and Southland, and extremely dry conditions over summer and into autumn affecting many regions, including parts of Canterbury. DairyNZ has been working with a range of organisations to identify what support is needed for farmers. Conditions can change quickly on-farm and there are lots of organisations offering assistance, so please get in touch with one of DairyNZ’s consulting team if you need any help.