Farmers are being offered extra environmental protection advice through an upgraded version of the hugely popular “farm menus” produced by Waikato Regional Council in co-operation with eight agriculture sector partners.
Since their launch in 2013, the first farm menus have been picked up by more than 4000 farmers and rural professionals in Waikato and elsewhere. They offer methods for reducing the impact of farming operations on water quality.
The initial menus – covering nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment or micro-organisms getting into waterways - had a focus on reducing nitrogen leaching. Now the outcome of further research means the upgraded menus have more options added for reducing phosphorus and sediment loss.
DairyNZ’s Adrian Brocksopp says the menus give farmers a starting point to the areas where they can be more efficient, providing environmental benefits. “The menu guides your discussion with your consultant about mitigation options for your farm.”
Diana Mathers, from the Foundation for Arable Research, adds the cropping section of the menus is a valuable resource with practical information. “It will assist farmers in developing the management strategies for their farm environment plans.”
Beef & Lamb New Zealand’s Matt Harcombe says: “My organisation has invested heavily in developing its land and environment planning toolkit for farmers and the menus add another dimension to those.”
Also, with the Overseer modelling tool’s irrigation module having been updated, the menus now include a section on irrigation, says council sustainable agriculture advisor Don Harford, who co-ordinated the latest upgrade.
“Managing soil moisture levels over the summer to prevent drainage from land under irrigation helps controls nitrogen leaching to waterways. The technology is available to do this and it comes with lower pumping costs.”
The second round of menus emphasises the role staff training plays in implementing good management practices.
Mr Harford says there are a large number of small things that can be done on farm that adds to a better outcome for water.
For example, changing the direction the cows graze a crop in winter can see a reduction in phosphorus loss of up to 50 per cent.
This is a saving to the farm and further protects adjacent waterway. Cutouts along races can channel water back into the paddock and prevent contaminated water running down the race or track and into a stream or river.
Mr Harford believes demand for the menus will increase as farmers and regional councils around the country strive to protect and restore water quality.
“Farm planning will be an essential part of implementing environmental improvements on the farm, so menu use is expected to increase.”
The council has made it easier to use the farm menus by turning them into a web based tool meaning they can be used on a desktop, tablet or phone.
“Farmers doing planning can use them to help model various mitigation measures and their expected outcomes to help get the best bang for the environmental buck,” says Mr Harford.
He adds the menu is best used alongside the Overseer and Farmax tools. “These will give stronger indications of nutrient reduction, and costs and benefits.”
Go to www.farmmenus.org.nz to view the online version of the farm menus and to access links to other information, as well as videos where farmers describe how they have applied mitigation measures on their farms. For a free copy of the menus contact Mr Harford on 0800 800 401.