Annabelle and Georgie Stalker are the sixth generation on their family’s Waimakariri farm – their father Richard is now joining dozens of other local farmers in an MPI-funded project to ensure the future of farming under new regulations.
The Stalkers are part of a three-year, farmer-led sustainability project launched in the Waimakariri District. The nearly $700,000 project is supported to the tune of 60 percent by the Ministry for Primary Industries’ (MPI) Sustainable Food & Fibre Futures fund.
The Waimakariri Landcare Trust (WLT) – formerly Next Generation Farmers – has initiated the project, which will see farmers working together to identify and monitor new on-farm practices to help address environmental concerns.
Industry bodies and local authorities are partnering with WLT and contributing additional funds. Project partners include Environment Canterbury, DairyNZ, Beef + Lamb New Zealand, Waimakariri Irrigation Limited, and Ballance Agri-Nutrients.
WLT Chair and fifth-generation dairy farmer Sam Spencer-Bower says it is an opportunity to investigate practical solutions that balance farm profitability and environmental sustainability.
“Waimakariri farmers face significant water, environmental, and sustainability challenges,” says Sam.
“Environmental stewardship is already part of our daily operations – it is part of our social licence and responsibility as caretakers of the land.
“We are bringing the farming sector together to investigate and test new on-farm practices and tools to help farmers continue reducing environmental risk – while still remaining profitable so they can farm into the future.”
Farmer confidence and farm viability plays a key role in achieving environmental improvement, he says.
“There are lots of fancy ideas out there but they need to be practical and proven, to give farmers the confidence to invest in them. We are serious about making a difference and driving change from the farm gate.”
During the past few weeks farmers involved with the project have been meeting in groups and collaborating with industry experts to brainstorm ideas. These include:
- Demonstration sites for application of liquid fertiliser
- Using ‘exemplar’ farms as case studies to showcase the journey towards a high-performing, sustainable system
- Investigating the concept of an informative walkway between town and country to increase community engagement
- Working with industry specialists to undertake research on the economic value of environmental mitigation.
For dairy farmer and WLT member Richard Stalker, the project is an opportunity to understand future options and new technologies, while promoting the value of farming to the wider community.
“Farming is an integral part of this district. My family has farmed here for 140 years, and my two daughters are sixth-generation. It’s important that we adopt sustainable land-use practices to ensure the community continues to thrive for future generations.”
Addressing environmental issues “is just good business”, adds Richard, who farms 200-hectares on the outskirts of Rangiora.
“Farmers are already investing in new technology to reduce their environmental impact. We are very receptive to sensible, pragmatic solutions that are supported by science and research.
“For the past eight years I have been applying reduced rates of nitrogen with an online GPS tracking system, which means I can apply precise amounts to certain areas of the paddock – instead of a blanket approach.
“We have also partnered with rural electricity company Solagri Energy to install a first of its kind solar panel system, which has greatly reduced our energy requirements.
“WLT is now providing us with a vehicle to communicate our progress and share what we are doing with other farmers and the wider sector.”
Steve Penno, Director Investment Programmes at MPI, says the project is a great example of the farming community rallying together to tackle a shared challenge.
“Reducing environmental impacts is a key goal in Fit for a Better World – Accelerating our Economic Recovery – the roadmap for the food and fibres sector launched last year to boost New Zealand’s recovery efforts from COVID-19.
“MPI is investing in this new project because it will deliver practical tools to reduce environmental impacts on-farm, and help build on New Zealand’s reputation for producing food with strong environmental credentials.
“By working together, this project will be able to achieve more than if each farmer embarked on this work alone.”