Andrew and Vicky Booth, Northland

Taking care of the environment is a priority on Andrew Booth's dairy farm, an approach that is leading to better production outcomes as well as wins for freshwater, biodiversity and the climate.

Learn how Andrew and Vicky Booth are managing greenhouse gas emissions on their family dairy farm near Whangārei.

Transcript

Duration: 6:21

ANDREW BOOTH

We're in Titoki, which is half an hour west of Whangārei.

I was born here, raised here, went away and farmed elsewhere for a little while, came back home. My wife Vicky and I have been home 12 seasons now. This is our 13th season sharemilking for my Mum and Dad.

We were really lucky with the way the farm is and the way it's been developed by my grandfather and my father over the years. And everything we're doing is looking to enhance what's already there.

We're just continuing to build on the work that's already been done.

TAMSYN BOOTH

This one is a carex. And they like to be planted in a wet kind of area.

HANNAH BOOTH

This is a fertiliser tab. You put it in the hole before you put the plant in. It helps the plants grow.

VICKY BOOTH

We put in flax, carex, karamū and we've got kānuka, mānuka some ribbonwoods and some pūriri. I guess planting things is our way of ensuring that there's something here for the future.

I don't know exactly what's coming in terms of greenhouse gases and how that will be measured, but I do know that every plant that we plant now is going to be helpful in some way.

Whether it's counted or not, is not the point for me. Like, it's just about doing something for the environment and making sure that, like I say, there is something here for the future.

ANDREW BOOTH

For me, it's looking to make sure whatever we're doing on farm here is not going to have a detrimental effect on either the waterways or looking at our emissions. It’s being aware of our impact.

Once people actually understand or know what their farm profile looks like in terms of their emissions, they've got a better idea of where they can start looking to fine tune their system and find ways to start reducing their emissions.

Over the last four or five years, we've transitioned this farm from a full spring calving farm to a full autumn calving farm. We did that to match our grass growth on the farm a lot better.

With the way the summers have been, and I suppose as a result of the way climate is changing, we're certainly growing a lot less feed through the summer than we used to.

We've got quite a lot of volcanic soil up the top here, and so we'll grow a lot more feed on farm in the winter months than we will in the summer months. So we thought it suited us best to actually milk our cows while we're growing the grass.

We've started looking at using cocksfoots and fescues. Different cultivars of grass coming through, or different varieties of grass that seem to be more drought and more summer tolerant.

With that, we're also looking to put a lot of chicory in there and use some plantain. Plantain is going to have some benefits for reducing nitrates as well or nitrogen loss.

We're starting to use more clovers in the pasture and changing our fert program a little bit to really try and promote the clover growth.

So the more clover and these diverse species, we should be able to look to grow, grow more feed on farm, throughout the whole year. Because that's one of our key drivers of efficiency is the more actual feed we can grow on farm, the more efficient we're going to be.

We've also dropped 30 cows out of the system, so we've come from 430 to 435 cows down to 390 to 400, but we're actually making more milk than we're used to.

We're putting in a similar amount of inputs into the system, so we've increased our conversion of feed into milk quite a lot. And even though our total emissions haven't changed drastically, our emissions output per kilo of milk has improved a lot.

But as a result also we've managed to lower our replacement stock numbers, by lowering the herd numbers as well. There's a lot less emissions being created just purely from from less animals.

Other things we've been doing, we're doing a lot of focus around animal breeding.

We're getting rid of our lower quality animals earlier in the season if they're not performing for whatever reason, we'll be looking to cull them earlier.

We're being a lot more selective when we do our mating. So all our genetically superior stock, we're breeding all our replacements off them, and cows that aren't genetically as good we're putting beef bulls over them.

So that we're not actually keeping replacement stock from our less efficient cows. And then we're supplying the beef market with calves right throughout calving rather than just the tail end of calving.

We’re putting a lot of focus on transitioning the herd to a highly efficient herd that's going to convert grass or whatever feed we're putting in, into milk as efficiently as possible.

So that even though if we keep putting the same amount of feed in, we're creating more milk, or we can run less cows, put less feed in, and then still make the same amount of milk, which is going to allow us to reduce our emissions profile.

We can see what's coming at us, so we want to try and get ahead of it. We want to try and adapt our farm to this changing environment before we have to, or before it's too late and we've got to try and scramble to change our system in the last year or two.

We're looking to work out how we can transition there so it's not such a shock once the pricing does come in.

We know it's coming. We're looking how to transition ourselves there and gathering the data along the way so that we can show that this has been our journey.

If this is the way the future is looking to head, we want to be ahead of it so that we can we can sort of manage our own destiny.

About the farm

Andrew and Vicky Booth are sharemilking 400 cows on their 220-hectare family farm in Titoki, 30km west of Whangārei on the banks of the Mangakahia River. This is their 13th season on the farm – the place where Andrew grew up and his father before him. 

Aerial shot of dairy farm with bush blocks and river

The Booth family farm near Whangārei (Photo: Dave Allen Photography)

The farm has an effective area of 174 hectares, with the balance made up of pockets of native bush, wetlands and swamp, retired areas for native planting and a small block of plantation forestry as well as the farm facilities such as sheds and buildings, yards and races.

The dairy platform is managed as a System 3 for inputs, with palm kernel and DDGs brought in and maize grown on the farm and at the support blocks.

The topography of the farm is mixed. Sixty percent of the farm is on the top flat plateau with predominantly volcanic and peaty soils. The remainder is hills going down to the lower river flats where there is a mix of silty loam and clay soils.

The farm receives around 1,400mm rainfall on average each year and is not irrigated other than with stored effluent.

Environmental focus

Growing up on the farm, Andrew knew from an early age that the Mangakahia River was the life blood for not only their farm but for the health of the entire valley. These environmental and community values drive much of how he farms today.

“For me, it’s about making sure that we’re aware of our impact and are doing the right thing,” says Andrew.

Andrew is always looking for ways to improve how he farms and how that impacts the environment. This has seen him recognised as one of DairyNZ’s Climate Change Ambassadors as well as scooping up several environmental awards over the years.

The family has been planting and restoring land for years, with upstream and downstream neighbours now joining the community effort. Generous riparian zones have been set aside on the farm and planted to prevent erosion, protect waterways, and increase biodiversity and habitat.

The Booths have fenced off more than 5km of riverbank between the dairy platform and the support block, which is just up the river. All their bush pockets are fully fenced, and they are now fencing off a lot of the critical source areas around the farm, as well as small drains. The family has also planted around 25,000 native plants over the last five years.

Changes have been made to the way effluent is stored and irrigated, with the development of large storage facilities and an increase in the area where effluent is spread, helping to best utilise the nutrients captured.

Chicory is often used as part of the pasture restoration programme and crops and grass seed are direct drilled to protect soil integrity.

Over the last 4-5 years, the Booths have transitioned from full spring calving to full autumn calving. This was done to match the grass growth on the farm, which has been changing due to the increasing length of summer dry in Northland. With more feed available in the autumn and winter, it made sense to match production and shift feed demand away from the drought-prone months.

Dairy cows in a paddock

Dairy cows grazing on diverse pastures at the Booth family farm (Photo: Dave Allen Photography)

As well as chicory, Andrew is introducing other pasture species to help see them through the drier periods. Ryegrass is not persisting well through the warmer summers, so he is trying cocksfoot and fescues that are more drought tolerant. Plantain is also in the mix, and they are sowing more clover to help reduce the use of synthetic nitrogen. The overall aim is to have high quality pasture for as much of the year as possible.

Efficiency gains are being made in other areas too. The Booths have dropped 40 cows out of the system with the transition to autumn calving, aiming to lighten their impact on the environment. Pleasingly for them, this has not come at the cost of production, which has been steadily increasing.

They cull lower quality animals earlier in the season if they’re not performing and are a lot more selective during mating. Replacements are bred off their genetically superior stock, with beef bulls put across lower performers.

“We’re putting a lot of focus on transitioning the herd to being highly efficient,” says Andrew. “We’re figuring out how we can run fewer cows and put less feed in, but still make the same amount of milk.”

This has obvious climate benefits too – something that Andrew is committed to helping other farmers understand.

Andrew's greenhouse gas numbers

By the end of 2022, New Zealand farmers and growers will have to know their agricultural greenhouse gas numbers, and by the end of 2024 they’ll have to have a written plan for reducing them.

There are a number of tools available for farmers to find out their greenhouse gas numbers. As a Fonterra supplier, Andrew receives his numbers in an annual report from the company. You can read about this and other tools on our Know your numbers page.

Andrew’s results for 2019-2022 are shown below:

Numbers 2019/20 2020/21 2021/22
Effective area (ha) 174 174 174
Methane (tonnes CO2-e/ha) 7.34 7.47 7.14
Nitrous oxide (tonnes CO2-e/ha) 1.57 1.56 1.57
Total biological GHGs per hectare (tonnes CO2-e/ha) 8.9 9 8.7
Methane* (kg/ha)   299 285.6
Methane* (kg/total block)   52,019 49,687
Peak cows 430 405 392
Production for season (kg MS) 157,198 168,489 159,578
Farm-grown feed 91% 85% 89%

*The weight of methane is shown here without conversion to CO2-e because this is how it would be required to be reported in any farm-level pricing mechanism.

The main drivers of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions (methane and nitrous oxide) are:

  • Amount of dry matter eaten
  • Protein level of the diet
  • Amount of nitrogen fertiliser applied 

For Andrew, his emissions come from his dairy herd and the fertiliser he applies and his focus on efficiency gains has been paying off.

In the past year, he has managed to reduce his methane emissions by just under 5% and his overall emissions by just under 4%. The reduction in herd size since 2019 has helped with this and milk production has remained steady. We’ll explain how he’s achieved these great results in the next section.

Andrew is a big believer in getting a head start on complex issues like climate change.

“The sooner you can work out your greenhouse gas numbers and what drives them on your farm, the sooner you can start identifying ways to bring them down,” he says. “We want to be ahead of the game when pricing comes in and able to manage our own destiny”.

On-farm actions

Andrew’s efforts to lighten his environmental impact are paying off with reduced greenhouse gas emissions in the last year. His actions have included:

  • Reducing stocking rate
  • Matching feed requirements to pasture growth
  • Making efficiency gains
  • Experimenting with diverse pasture species (climate adaptation benefits)
  • Reducing supplementary feed
  • Improving individual animal performance
  • Making genetic improvements
  • Using nitrogen fertiliser more efficiently

You can read about these actions and others on our on-farm actions page.

In addition, the planting that Andrew and his family have been doing will have climate benefits as well as helping improve the health of local waterways and the Mangakahia River. In the future, the carbon these plants sequester may be recognised in the farm's emissions profile.

“Our vision is clear,” says Andrew. “A sustainable future for our farm, the environment, our family and the wider community”.

Know your numbers and have a plan

By the end of 2022, all farmers and growers will need to know their annual on-farm greenhouse gas emissions and by the end of 2024, they'll need to have a plan in place to manage them. These requirements are part of the He Waka Eke Noa partnership and are intended to help get farmers ready for agricultural greenhouse gas emissions to be priced from 2025. To find out more on how to do this, see our Know Your Numbers page