Videos

Ag Matters videos provide brief and easy-to-absorb introductions to the science behind climate change and the main agricultural greenhouse gases, as well as important associated topics and case studies.

Climate change basics · science

Human activities are causing climate change by changing the delicate balance of the atmosphere, and agriculture is contributing to the problem. You can read more about this on the Climate change basics topic page. 

In this short video, learn how human activities are causing climate change by changing the delicate balance of the atmosphere. How is agriculture contributing to the problem?

Transcript

Duration: 2:42

GAVIN
Kia ora. We’re here to talk about climate change – how it works, and how it relates on-farm.

CARRIE
We’ll also reveal New Zealand’s biggest contributor to climate change. It might not be what you think, and it’s rather close to home.

COW 1
[Belch]

COW 2
[Belch]

COW 3
[Is she looking at us?]

CARRIE
Our atmosphere is a magnificent cocktail of gases, water vapour and particles that constantly mix and mingle. It gives us our oxygen, protects us from radiation from the sun, and controls our weather. It’s a delicate balance, and all life depends on it.

GAVIN
But we’re doing things down here which are really upsetting the balance up there. Human activities are rapidly increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. They’re called greenhouse gases because they trap the heat and warm the planet. The main greenhouse gases that we produce are carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane. Globally, carbon dioxide is the most important because it stays in the atmosphere a very long time.

CARRIE
Here’s what’s going on.

GAVIN
Incoming solar radiation warms up the surface of the Earth. The Earth’s surface then sends this heat back through the atmosphere and most of it goes out into space. But some of this heat is trapped by greenhouse gases, and this extra heat warms up the atmosphere.

So, the more greenhouse gases we emit into our atmosphere, the more it’ll warm up and affect our climate.

CARRIE
And it’s already having a big impact. Earth’s temperature has warmed by about one degree Celsius since humans started using coal, oil and other fossil fuels. Globally, 18 of the hottest 19 years on record have occurred since the year 2000.

Here in New Zealand, temperatures are about one degree hotter than they were a century ago. We’re seeing more extreme weather and that’s before we talk about rising sea levels, melting glaciers and polar ice. 

SHEEP 1
Indeed, the evidence is compelling.

CARRIE
As our climate in New Zealand changes, it might not be possible to farm in the same ways or the same places as we do now. A couple of degrees of warming might not seem like much, but it has a big impact on crop and pasture growth, and on pests and diseases. More extreme weather also creates bigger problems.

GAVIN
Now it might surprise you to learn that New Zealand’s biggest current contribution to this isn’t carbon dioxide at all.

CARRIE
Nope. It’s methane from animals.

COW 1
[Belch]

COW 2
What the?

CARRIE
You can find out more about how methane affects climate change in our next video.

Produced by the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre. Funded by the New Zealand Government

How to reduce emissions · science

Learn some of the steps New Zealand farmers can consider in an effort to reduce emissions of the main agricultural greenhouse gases. You can learn more about this on the Reduce methane emissions and Reduce nitrous oxide emissions goals pages.

This video explains the steps New Zealand farmers can consider in an effort to reduce emissions of the main agricultural greenhouse gases, methane and nitrous oxide, while maintaining a profitable business.

Transcript

Duration: 3:03

GAVIN
Farmers have been asking: what can I do to reduce emissions on my farm? Well, there are three gases we need to reduce: carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane. But on-farm, it’s particularly about the last two. Lots of small steps can add up to make a big difference.

CARRIE
The good news is that combined greenhouse gas emissions from New Zealand agriculture are no longer going up, thanks to farmers’ efforts to become more and more productive and efficient over the years. As a result, the greenhouse gases emitted per unit of product are going down.

GAVIN
Without all this great work, emissions from agriculture in New Zealand would be about 30 percent higher than now, to produce the same amount of food.

COW 1
[But there’s a lot more of us now.]

SHEEP 1
[And a lot fewer of us!]

GAVIN
But we need to reduce emissions, not just keep them steady. There’s no magical formula here, but there are several things that can be done on farms right now – and some will have other benefits too.

You know your business better than anyone, so you’re in the best place to work out which of these are achievable.

CARRIE
Here’s what some farmers are doing already, that you might want to consider for your farm.

First, find out what your farm’s greenhouse gas emissions are and include them in your planning. Depending on the farm, it might be that some of those options can save you time, and money.

In a nutshell, methane emissions are related to the total amount of dry matter eaten. Nitrous oxide emissions depend on the total amount of nitrogen going through your farm via feed and fertiliser. So, what steps can be taken to change these quantities, while still running a profitable business?

GAVIN
Look carefully at the feeds used. Can you use feeds with lower nitrogen or higher energy content to get animals to market quicker? Would a less-intensive system work for you? It might be reducing fertiliser inputs and stocking rates, changing the ratio of your stock type, or once-a-day milking.

You could try using precision technologies for improving the amount and timing of your fertiliser application.

CARRIE
Look at the balance between individual animal performance and stocking rate. Could you run slightly fewer animals and focus more on getting the most out of each animal to keep production up?

You could also consider the balance of your land use to reduce livestock emissions. Many farmers are now integrating trees onto their less productive land, and there is Government support to help do this.

For some farms, diversifying some of the land use to cropping or horticulture could reduce overall emissions and dependence on one income stream.

GAVIN
Rest assured, you’re not alone in your efforts. Scientists are working hard on new solutions, with some very promising results. Some of them are being trialled already. In the future, it’s likely we’ll be able to breed low-methane animals or use inhibitors and vaccinations to reduce the amount of methane that animals belch out.

We’re all working towards the same goal, and any small step is a step in the right direction.

CARRIE
Remember to check out our website for lots more information. Thanks for watching.

Produced by the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre. Funded by the New Zealand Government

Why does methane matter? · science

Learn why emissions of methane, an important but widely misunderstood greenhouse gas, must be addressed if New Zealand is to meet its greenhouse gas emissions-reduction targets. You can learn more about this on the Reduce methane emissions goals page.

Why does methane matter?

Transcript

Duration: 3:21

CARRIE
So how exactly is methane produced, and how does it contribute to climate change? There are a lot of different stories out there, but this is how it actually works.

GAVIN
Methane comes from several places, including wetlands, landfills, forest fires, agriculture and fossil fuel extraction. But here in New Zealand, the largest proportion by far is belched out by livestock.

COW 1
[What, all livestock?]

SHEEP 1
[Not us, surely!]

CARRIE
It’s perfectly natural. Microbes in the fore-stomach of ruminant animals, like cows and sheep, break down the pasture the animals have eaten and produce methane. And, well, it has to come out somehow.

COW 1
Great … but it breaks down though, right?

GAVIN
Well, it’s true that methane released into the atmosphere breaks down much faster than other greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. But while it exists, it has a big impact. Tonne for tonne, methane is actually many times more effective at absorbing heat than carbon dioxide.

CARRIE
An emission of methane will mostly disappear from the atmosphere within 50 years. But while it’s up there, every molecule traps lots of heat. An equivalent emission of carbon dioxide traps less heat, but stays around much, much longer. Thousands of years in fact.

GAVIN
We’ll show you what it looks like. Let’s say filling up the board with symbols is equivalent to a certain temperature increase.

I’m emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. Because CO2 takes so long to break down, every emission adds to the warming caused by previous emissions. The amount of CO2 increases over time, and the effects become bigger and bigger.

CARRIE
Okay. I’m emitting methane into the atmosphere. Each emission makes a big contribution to warming, but fortunately we’re not emitting nearly as much methane as we are carbon dioxide.

So as we do this, Gavin is going to rub out the methane symbols to show they break down at a much faster rate in the atmosphere, and I’m going to continue emitting at the same rate.

GAVIN
So if we keep emitting the same amount of methane, the amount in the atmosphere levels out, because the new emissions by and large just replace the previous emissions that have now disappeared.

COW 1
[So, what’s the problem?]

COW 2
[New burps replace the warming caused by old ones.]

CARRIE
But, we’ve increased our methane emissions a lot over the past century. This has pushed temperatures up already, and globally they’re still going up.

GAVIN
If we keep emitting methane at the current rate, that will keep the atmosphere a lot warmer than it used to be.

CARRIE
So, at a minimum, if we want to stop additional warming from methane we need to reduce the amount of emissions.

GAVIN
They don’t have to be stopped completely, but the more that they’re reduced, the less warming is caused and the better for the climate. How far could we go?

COW 1
[I don’t mind a change of diet!]

CARRIE
Climate change is a complex challenge. But we’ve already achieved heaps thanks to some clever Kiwi innovation and farmers becoming more and more efficient. But there is more that we can do. New technology will play its part, but there’s more that you can do now. Find out what in our next video.

 Produced by the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre. Funded by the New Zealand Government

Nitrous oxide basics · science

Where does nitrous oxide come from, what is its effect on the atmosphere, and what are some of the options researchers are exploring that farmers and growers might be able to use to reduce emissions? You can learn more about this on the Reduce nitrous oxide emissions goals page.

In this short video, Dr Cecile de Klein of AgResearch explains where nitrous oxide comes from, its effect on the atmosphere, and some of the options researchers are exploring that farmers and growers might be able to use to reduce their nitrous oxide emissions.

Transcript

Duration: 5:15

CARRIE GREEN:
Most NZ farmers are in the business of growing plants.

either to feed livestock or people, or produce seeds.

Applying nitrogen helps plants to grow.

But it's no secret that too much nitrogen can lead to nitrates entering our streams, rivers and lakes.

What you might not know is that nitrogen in the soil also produces a greenhouse gas that's far more potent than carbon dioxide or methane.

In a moment we'll show you what you can do to reduce emissions of this gas, But first let's see what's going on in the soil.


CECILE DE KLEIN:
There's no 'Planet B', this is what we've got and we need to leave it in a better place for our children and our children's, children's children.

So that they can enjoy life as we know it. That's really what drives me.

I've been working on nirous oxide emissions for over thirty years now.

It's a very potent greenhouse gas, it's about 300 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide

It's also a long lived gas. It stays in the atmosphere for over 100 years. But its warming effect can stay on for centuries after that.

Nitrous oxide is a gas that's produced naturally in the soil by microbes.

They use nitrogen that is in the system to convert to nitrous oxide.

Nitrogen gets introduced into farming systems through fertiliser, clover, supplementary feed and animal urine.

Soil microbes use that nitrogen that's in the soil to transfer it into a form that plants can use.

But not all of the nitrogen is used by plants. Some of it sits in the soil, mainly as nitrate.

And that can then leach into the waterways or convert into nitrous oxide.

So, tonne for tonne nitrous oxide is many times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide.

Fortunately we produce a lot less of it. But nitrous oxide still accounts for around 12% of NZ's total greenhouse gas emissions.

There must be something we can do about it right? Let's see what the scientists are up to.

Some of the solutions they're looking into are using different plants to utilise the excess nitrogen in the soil.

And there are some new technologies on the horizon.

One example is looking at some new nitrification inhibitors that can reduce nitrous oxide emissions.

Using plantain also appears to hold some promise for reducing both nitrate leaching and nitrous oxide emissions.

Partly that's because there's less nitrogen going through the animal and there's less nitrogen in the urine.

But there also seems to be a positive effect of the plant roots on the soil microbes that will reduce nitrous oxide emissions.

Work is still ongoing and we still need to understand the mechanism behind this.

And also how plantain can be used best and how can we maintain it in the system. They're all big questions still to be answered.

So a number of solutions are showing real promise, but there are things you can try on your farm now that might make a difference. Let's take a look.

Key things to do are to consider whether you can reduce your fertiliser input.

There are more and more technologies out there that can help you with precision fertiliser application.

Put it in places that need it where nitrogen is low. These technologies are coming or are already out there.

If you're a livestock farmer consider reducing stocking rate.

If you're able to produce the same amount of product with fewer animals,

then that means the animals don't need as much maintenance feed and that means you don't need as much nitrogen inputs such as fertiliser or supplementary feed.

Which means less N in the system and that will have a positive effect on nitrate leaching as well. So it's a win win scenario.

In cropping systems the main source of nitrous oxide is the fertiliser that is applied to the crops.

So fertiliser timing rates and scheduling is key in terms of minimising nitrous oxide emissions.

And making sure that most of the nitrogen is used for plant growth.

CARRIE GREEN:
Right now there isn't one single solution for reducing nitrous oxide emissions.

The most reliable option is to cut back the amount of nitrogen hitting your soil – by lowering stock numbers, reducing supplementary feeds or using less fertiliser.

Reducing nitrogen in your soil will also reduce nitrate leaching.

Scientists are working hard to find solutions to reduce nitrous oxide.

You can keep up to date with all the developments on www.agmatters.nz

Soil carbon basics · science

Learn where soil carbon comes from, why it’s important, and why increasing New Zealand’s soil carbon levels isn’t easy. You can learn more about this on the Maintain or increase soil carbon goals page.

In this video, Professor Louis Schipper from the University of Waikato explains where soil carbon comes from, why it’s important, and why increasing New Zealand’s soil carbon levels isn’t easy.

Transcript

Duration: 5:27

CARRIE GREEN:
Healthy soil contains plenty of carbon, nutrients and moisture to help crops and pasture thrive.

The carbon in soil is also an important factor in climate change.

Globally, there's more carbon in soils than all land based plants and the atmosphere combined.

So taking even a bit more carbon out of the atmosphere and into the soil could be good for the climate as well as your farm.

But losing soil carbon has the opposite effect.

Now despite what you might of heard, it isn't that easy to increase soil carbon in NZ. Why is that?


LOUIS SCHIPPER:
I think that farmers have a very complex operation.

They're trying to juggle, how do we maintain production, look after our animals and also have this broader responsibility of looking after the environment as well.

One of the difficulties of farming is that there is inevitably some losses of greenhouse gas emissions.

All organisms produce carbon dioxide through a process called respiration.

But that's only one half of the equation.

The other half of the equation is plants taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere through photosynthesis

into their leaves, down into their roots and it eventually ends up in the soil.

And so, we have these two big processes going on at the same time.

A small difference between the two, results in an accumulation of carbon in the soil or a loss of carbon from the soil.

Our key job is to find ways to increase the amount that is captured and decrease the amount that is released into the atmosphere.

So when we think about this balance of carbon dioxide going down into the soil and being re-released,

we have these two big processes of photosynthesis and respiration.

If a soil is bare, so there's no plants growing on it, you've reduced the capture of carbon dioxide, and you're reducing the amount that's going into the soil.

The micro organisms in the soil keep decomposing or breaking down the carbon that is in the soil and re-releasing it into the atmosphere.

So when you think about a bare soil you've effectively stopped carbon dioxide being captured but the micro organisms are continuing to pump out carbon dioxide.

Avoiding soils being bare and not having active photosynthesising plants on them, is something that you should look to do.

Another way that we're exploring is whether there are different species that we can add into the pasture mix,

that will have more or different kind of roots penetrating through the soil and increasing the carbon content of the soil.

We've been looking at things like plantain, chicory, tall fescue and it's really going to be about what plants are best where.

It's early days yet but there's some promising leads that increasing the diversity of pastures can increase the amount of carbon in soil.

In NZ we're really lucky because we've got really forgiving soils, we have year round growth, and a great climate.

What has happened is that we've built up large amounts of carbon in our soils in comparison to many other countries.

Additionally, we tend to farm in a way that there's always vegetation on the surface and we're not continuously cropping large areas.

As a result we've got really large amounts of carbon in most of our soils around NZ.

It can be quite hard to increase the amount of carbon that you have in your soil. There are practices out there that might be able to help.

And those practices will not only benefit the amount of carbon dioxide that's in the atmosphere and increase the amount of carbon that's in soil.

But if you can increase the amount of carbon or just maintain what you've got then you've got a healthier soil.

That's going to support the vegetation above it better, and it's going to have better environmental outcomes.

It might make that soil more resilient to external disturbances like droughts.

Keeping the amount of carbon that you have in soil is simply good farming practice.

CARRIE GREEN:
The aim is to draw carbon into our soil and keep it there.

But NZ soils are already naturally high in carbon, so adding more is a lot harder than some other parts of the world.

And even though we grow a lot of grass, that doesn't tell us our soil carbon is increasing.

In fact, latest data suggests it's been steady at best in flat land and declining in peat soils.

It seems to have increased in hill country soils but we don't know if that's continuing.

So what's important right now is holding on to the soil carbon that we have.

There's lots of research underway to explore how we can do this.

It's looking at actions like avoiding bare soils and planting diverse pastures to find out how they affect soil carbon under NZ's different farm types.

You can find out more about this research and NZ's different soil carbon levels at www.agmatters.nz

Craige Mackenzie, arable and dairy, mid-Canterbury · case study

Mid-Canterbury arable and dairy farmer Craige Mackenzie's philosophy is right input, right quantity, right place, right time—which makes sense for his business and for the land, waterways and climate. Conditions often aren't in his favour, but precision technology is helping to even the odds. Find out more in the full case study.

Learn how Mid-Canterbury dairy and cropping farmer Craige Mackenzie uses precision technology to deliver the right amount of water and nitrogen fertiliser to the right place, at the right time.

Transcript

Duration: 5:05

CARRIE GREEN:
Farming in Canterbury has its challenges. The weather can be extreme and soil conditions vary greatly across the region.

So minimising inputs and focusing on sustainability while keeping production up can be a huge task.

Let's take a look at how one farmer is taking up the challenge.

CRAIGE MACKENZIE
Mum and Dad bought this property, 50 years next June. So, I've been here most of my life.

When we came it was a very run down place that needed a lot of attention.

The guy that lived here before used to do a lot of hunting with hares and under the trees there used to be a lot of gin bottles and other things.

It was a huge change from where we are today.

Mostly we're only limited by our imagination.

Our drivers as a family have been to do the best with what we've had.

We've got lots of variability on this farm. If you drive up the Methven highway and you'll see some nice soils.

We've got a little bit of that, but we've also got a lot of light soils.

So we had to manage things a lot more carefully than some of the guys with really good soils. It's not very forgiving here at all.

We did a yield map out of a combine harvester, and ran it through a computer to make a profit map.

And we were losing money in certain areas, I'm of Scottish heritage and that didn't sit well, so we needed to fix that.

When you've got lots of variability in the soil you've got different potential in different areas.

We know that some areas will grow 8 tonne to the hectare, some 12, some 14 and some 16 of a wheat crop.

And that's great, but actually you only need to put on the appropriate amount of fertiliser to grow the 8 tonne or the 12 or whatever.

So, by mapping the soil, knowing where the variability is and looking at what the potential is.

We've said, over there we put on 150kg and there we put on 200kg and there 250kg, so we absolutely get the right amount of input as a base fertiliser.

Then we're also looking at the variability in the field through the growing season.

With satellite imagery and we've got our own sensors and drones, to look at what we can do in different areas.

Weather forecasting is hugely important for us, we've got 35 zones that measure soil moisture and we've got irrigators that put different amounts of water in different places

By getting really accurate weather forecasts would mean that we can choose to apply irrigation or not.

It's hugely important, hugely valuable for us as a decision making tool.

For most of that technology we will get a return on investment within 12 months, if not 24.

So that's a pretty good investment. If you buy a new tractor it's no different to the last one.

It might look good, it might be comfortable, it might be efficient but where's the real benefit?

Precision agriculture is about doing the right thing in the right place at the right time and in the right way.

And only putting on the right amount of inputs. There's a whole raft of different ways to look at that.

But for me it doesn't matter whether it's economic or environmental sustainability, reducing our carbon footprint is another way to look at it.

But all of them have the same outcome, so whichever way you look at it you'll end up using the same technology.

We've got a dairy operation next door on 330 hectares, we're milking around 1000 cows.

It gives us some flexibility, we did it for diversity. That soil type was lighter - more in keeping with pastoral farming than straight cropping.

The techniques that we use here equally fit on the dairy farm.

This isn't about arable, it's not about dairy, it's not about sheep and beef, horticulture, viticulture. It fits across all sectors.

We still need to make the decisions about what we put on, so it's not about artificial intelligence.

It's actually about farmer intelligence.

We're trying to make the most appropriate decision to grow the crop in the most appropriate way.

To give us the best financial outcome and the best environmental sustainability.

CARRIE GREEN:
So doing the right thing in the right place at the right time is how Craige is reducing his environmental impact, while maintaining productivity.

He maps the variability and potential of his soils, so he can plant the right crops in the right places.

Then he uses sensors and forecasts to work out exactly when, where and how much nitrogen fertiliser and water are needed to achieve the best yields.

Craige says investment in all that carefully chosen technology has paid off within 12 to 24 months.

He recognises that his hi-tech approach might not work everywhere, but he says being open to the possibilities is key.

Remember to visit www.agmatters.nz for more videos and ideas to help you reduce emissions and farm more sustainably.

Anders Crofoot, sheep and beef, Wairarapa · case study

When New Yorkers Anders & Emily Crofoot took over Castlepoint Station on the eastern Wairarapa coast in 1998, they had to make some big adjustments, quickly. Gone were the freezing winters and reliable summer rains. In their place were year-round growth, frequent summer droughts and relentless wind. Find out more in their full case study.

Learn how Anders and Emily Crofoot have adapted to conditions on Castlepoint Station using a mix of traditional and unconventional farming practices.

Transcript

CARRIE GREEN:
High winds, poor soil, dry summers and erosion do not make coastal Wairarapa the easiest place to farm.

The task is even more challenging when you're new to the country and need time to work through best farming practices for the area. Here's one man's story.

ANDERS CROFOOT:
We've been here for 21 years now. The area we came from was about an hour north of New York city.

It wasn't as different for us as people might imagine. In fact it's somewhat amusing that we'd actually never lived closer to a shop.

Castlepoint has a little store. We'd never been on public sewerage and we'd never had street lights outside of our house.

So in some respects coming to Castlepoint was more urban than where we came from in New York state.

That first month we were here was incredibily windy because it was during the equinox when the winds are strongest.

We weren't quite sure what we'd run into at that point. One of the conventionally cultivated paddocks was getting re-grassed.

About a third of the paddock, all the seed got blown out to sea. We weren't very impressed with that, and we resowed it.

And about a third of that got blown out. We finally got everything in but we decided there must be a better way of regrassing than full conventional cultivation.

Being summer dry and having a high wind run through the spring means that we don't necessarily do things traditionally.

What we've found with traditional ploughing is you're opening the soil up.

If you've got a lot of wind blowing then your topsoil's getting blown out to sea. Which doesn't do anybody any good.

That's why we've settled on direct drilling for establishing as much as we can. That leaves the soil intact, so even when it's windy it doesn't blow away.

We find even after forage crops like rape or kale which we'll use as a winter crop - when that gets grazed off there is a fair bit of open dirt.

But because it's all compacted and the roots are still there to hold it, it doesn't really blow away.

You can see the difference in the paddock - you may have some open ground but it's not dusty. Whereas on the farm tracks you'll see dust blowing all over the place.

We do about 1000 to 1500 poplar and willow poles each year. The point of that is to stabilise the slopes.

The hills here are quite prone to slips and the deep roots of the poplars help keep the hills from slipping during the winter months.

They're also really useful as shade for the livestock during the summer.

Every farmer wants to leave the land better than when they found it.

Now we're looking into different species of plants that we can grow to make better use of the limited moisture we get.

We've looked at things like lucerne. We're looking at introducing dung beetles. They're very interesting because they take manure and put it down into the soil.

They also open up some nice deep channels for the moisture to get down. They're quite an interesting animal.

I think looking after soil carbon is actually about using good farming practices. There's probably no silver bullet, it's just doing everything as well as you can.

For us direct drilling is a big part of it, other people might do minimal cultivation.

The idea is you don't want to turn over the soil if you don't have to.

Let it sit there in a good state, let the bugs do their thing and let the roots go down and develop it.

A lot of the practices that are good for soil carbon are basically just good agricultural practice.

And having good soil carbon means that you're going to have good organic matter which means that everything's actually working well.

We have no regrets about coming to NZ. It's a fantastic part of the world.

We feel really privileged to be at Castlepoint station and be the latest generation of many stewards of the land who have looked after it for many years.


CARRIE GREEN:
So let's sum that up. Despite the ongoing challenge of wind and drought, Anders is visibly improving the condition and stability of his soil.

He's doing this through sound farming practices. At the same time he's increasing his lambing percentages and weaning weights.

Some of his actions have probably helped to preserve or even boost his soil carbon too, but precise measurement would be needed to verify that.

Right now, researchers are investigating how various farming practices affect soil carbon under different land uses, climate zones and soil types. And how to measure any changes.

You'll find information about this research on www.agmatters.nz

Along with more videos about NZ farmers working hard to manage their land sustainably. Make sure you check them out.

Ben & Sarah Troughton, dairy, South Waikato · case study

Waikato dairy farmers Ben and Sarah Troughton are partway through their journey from a high input, high output operation towards a smaller, more diversified and environmentally sustainable system they’re truly proud of. It’s a slow journey and the financial investment has been significant, but the payoffs for their soil, livestock, lifestyle and the environment are starting to show. Find out more in their full case study.

Learn about the challenges Ben and Sarah Troughton faced as they continue their journey towards an environmentally sustainable system.

Transcript

CARRIE GREEN:
Most farmers want to leave their land in better condition than when they arrived and maintain happy healthy stock.

But there are big challenges. How do you balance making a viable living with the need to look after stock and the environment?

A Waikato family have made some big changes on their farm. Let's take a look at how it's working out for them.

VOICEOVER:
Any favourite flavours?

SARAH TROUGHTON:
Definitely Banana Bee - Banana and Honey.

BEN TROUGHTON:
Local honey.

SARAH TROUGHTON:
We've got the hives on the farm.

Jersey Cow Caramel, Ginger and Turmeric, Damson Buttercup.

BEN TROUGHTON:
The damson plums are off the farm and the original trees - my grandfather would've planted them.

That flavour's quite cool because we're using the fruit from the farm and the milk from the farm.

My grandfather Vic came out from Ireland in the early 1920s, so we're coming up to 100 years on the land.

In some respects, we've almost gone back to what my grandfather would've been farming like.

Just a more basic way of farming. If you have your own garden and you understand the basic principles.

Most people don't go out and spray their vegetables with fungicides, herbicides and urea. People don't tend to do that with their vegetables at home, the food that they eat.

And that applies to the grass too because the cows are eating that and we're drinking their milk and eating beef off the farm.

It's the same principle but on a larger scale. We know there's some harmful practices, and without everyone jumping up and down,

we have to do something about it.

Probably the biggest difference in latter years is the stocking rate. We've dropped that considerably from what it was.

We still use a little urea, really selectively. We've gone down from something like 200 units to 20 units.

And we've done that intentionally. We're at the point now that we could cut out artificial nitrogen completely.


SARAH TROUGHTON:
It's cost us a lot of money to do what we've done. The books don't look that good from the bank manager's point of view.

We've had to spend extra on the fertiliser and we've spent extra on the composting.


BEN TROUGHTON:
We have reduced our cow numbers and as a sharemilker, they're actually our asset.

Our bank manager pointed out that our best years financially were when we were milking the most cows.

We were doing good production but it came at a cost.

SARAH TROUGHTON:
They were the worst years in our farming.

Lots of cows, lots of staff.

BEN TROUGHTON:
Lots of pressure, lots of skinny cows and lots of costs too.

So we've reduced our costs. We have reduced our cow numbers and we have reduced our production.

But we're doing a lot better per cow and we are confident that we'll make up the difference when we tweak cow numbers a little more.

I guess our battle is with the land being so expensive, it's hard to manage that. Perhaps we need to look at different ways to diversify to make it work.

The aim of what we're doing with the gelato is to add value to our milk.

We look to overseas examples like the Swiss and their cheese and the French and their dairy products.

They're not producing massive amounts to feed the world.

We should be using our high quality ingredients and producing products that people want in this country.

We can produce this food and it's worth more to us.

It is exciting and hopefully an example of what can be done too.

SARAH TROUGHTON:
For me, I look at the way we farm, the condition of the cows. The cows are happy, you can see in the coat. It makes me proud of what we do.


BEN TROUGHTON:
And to be able to show people that there is another way and we can do it sustainably. Because that's what we all want.

100 years on the land.

We're not trying to destroy it, we're trying to improve it.

CARRIE GREEN:S
As well as reducing stock numbers and urea, Ben and Sarah moved to once a day milking, diversified their pasture, minimised tillage, improved effluent management and established feed pads.

All to improve their environmental performance and their work life balance.

Their focus on low input farming and selling locally won't work for everyone, but they wouldn't have it any other way.

Overall production levels have dropped but productivity per cow has increased and they're looking to add value to their product.

They're continuing to adjust stock numbers to get their system right for them.

And scientists from Waikato University are right along side them, crunching the numbers to see what works.

Make sure you check out www.agmatters.nz for updates on what they find, and for more videos about kiwi farmers on the path to sustainability.

Rural professionals' seminar video series overview

You can also view a series of six videos shot at the 2019 Rural Professionals' Seminar held in Palmerston North, which cover all of the topics addressed over the one-day event. View these videos on the Rural Professionals' Seminars page.