Judge Valley Dairies owners John Hayward and Susan O’Regan have no quarrel about those who believe the dairy industry needs to sharpen its act.
As multiple environmental award winners, they believe, somewhat ironically, there should be no need for such awards in the future dairy world.
After just nine years of farm ownership John and Susan, who demonstrably walk the sustainability talk, have developed Judge Valley Dairies into a model farm.
Susan is a former barrister, who in 2016 was elected Waipa district councillor for the Kakepuku ward.
With five children aged four to 19 she calculates she will spend 24 years making school lunches. “We have a very full and busy household, for teenagers to toddlers.”
She believes her role as a councillor enables a strong voice for the rural community particularly around local government environmental plan changes.
However she is quick to acknowledge the dairy industry could be regarded as the maker of some of its own problems including any perceived urban/ rural disconnection.
“We could take a hard look at ourselves and try and sharpen up some of our poor performers, and recalibrate people’s thinking around primary produce and it’s production in New Zealand. It’s paramount to (the industry’s) survival.”
There is a need for the dairy industry to ensure it was not being let down by any “weak links” who are not operating according to best practice, she says.
“I think that, sadly there are weak links out there, and sadly they are sitting ducks; we all seem to be tarred with the same brush.”
If the standards of the top performers become the industry norm, there would be no need for awards, she says.
After buying their farm, which comprises rolling to steep contour with terraces, John and Susan’s environmental journey started with a land use capability assessment undertaken by Waikato Regional Council.
This identified areas that were not particularly productive. John and Susan decided to change their use or retire them.
They spent nearly three years planting riparian areas, protecting and regenerating it’s 11 wetlands, planting 5000 native trees, retiring steeper, erosion-prone hill country and constructing sediment dams.
Some of the retired areas were planted in pine trees, but most are now in manuka and are under contract to Comvita for placement of beehives.
In a twist of land management history, an old photograph shows the areas now planted in manuka were covered by it 70 years ago.
“It should never have been cleared.” The overall result of the environmental development is fertile, high producing dairy land set among ribbons of biodiversity.
“They can go hand-in-hand; food production by premium producing cows, well fed, productive animals adjacent to areas that mitigate that activity.” The farm’s 240 hectares, of which 15ha is planted in manuka, comprises 135ha of dairy platform.
John says after previously having a 440 cow jersey and friesian herd split milked, the herd has been reduced to 380 friesians to simplify operations; cows are peaked milked in winter only to condense calving into one period.
The farm runs on Dairy NZ system 3 with cows being fed on grass and maize.
“This year, the reason for dropping numbers is we are getting away from palm kernel so we grow 30 hectares of maize on our dairy platform. To run a sustainable farm I want to control the costs.”
Last season’s production was about 170,000kgMS for the 380 cows, an average of 447kgMS each, but because of the sale of the jersey herd and a later start to milking it is difficult to quantify production against a normal season.
John is as unequivocal as Susan regarding the dairy industry mitigating its environmental footprint. “We just need to get things done and all stop talking about it and start making things happen.”
“The environmental issues or the compliance that we face, we need to be seeing it as an investment in our business, not a cost.
“I think in years to come, as we come to sell a farm or whatever, those things are going to be important.”
The couple’s next big project is to build a new effluent pond, which like the rest of the farm, will need to meet a high standard, including for methane emissions. “My vision is to run one of the most sustainable farms in New Zealand.”
This article was brought to you in association with the following businesses…