Environmental Issues and Opportunity
Environmental issues are becoming strong drivers for the dairy industries in many of
New Zealand’s high value markets for dairy products. As a result of the growing awareness in
these overseas markets, environment and animal welfare are becoming market access issues that
the New Zealand Dairy industry cannot ignore. The dairy industry has developed guidelines for
environmental and animal welfare issues of most concern to overseas markets. We need to
protect the investment the industry has made in the positive consumer perception of New
Zealand and its products clean green image. In New Zealand environmental issues in the dairy
industry is one of the sectors identified as needing to address real and perceived affects on the
countryside. The challenge is to address issues, as they arise, in such a way to ensure that we
have an economically and environmentally sustainable dairy industry. The aim should be for an
industry that meets the needs of the present without limiting the options of future generations.
This workshop looked at some of the issues faced by dairy farmers on the farm and possible
solutions and affects
The dairying environment
The “environment” includes the land, water, air, our animals and the community. As an
industry we need to protect our environment to maintain a position of leadership in our markets
and importantly, we need to be seen as a good corporate citizen at home.
Dairying is important to New Zealand. New Zealand has 30% of the world’s international
trade, despite producing less than 2% of the world’s dairy product, Only 4% of New Zealand
milk production is consumed domestically, the rest is exported. This makes dairying New
Zealand's leading export industry (40% bigger than meat, five times bigger than wool and 30
times bigger than the wine industry). As an industry we have a “social responsibility” to protect
the environment and uphold New Zealand’s clean green image need to market our products.
On a recent trip to the UK and Ireland I observed that in these countries farmers and the
dairy companies, led by the supermarket chains, are now concerned with environmental and
animal welfare issues, as much if not more so, than food safety issues. Increasingly, as a result
of public pressure environmental constraints enforced by national and local government are
forcing changes in how farmers have traditionally operated. Wide reaching controls from
handling of effluent and its effects on water, soil, and the air, to “visual pollution” for such
things as colours used and screening requirements dictating what a farmer can build, (if he can
build). Supermarket chains who purchase the majority of UK dairy products see animal welfare
as critical. The UK has national standards that need to be met by dairy farmers. This includes
The National Dairy Farm Assurance Scheme Standards, individual dairy company schemes e.g.
Unigate’s Superior Stockmanship Standards, supermarket chain policies e.g. Sainsbury’s
Technical Policy for Dairy Welfare, and nationally recognised niche accreditation systems
These standards focus heavily on animal health and welfare and the provision of five freedoms:
Freedom from hunger and thirst
Freedom from discomfort
Freedom from pain, injury or disease
Freedom to express normal behaviour and
Freedom from fear and distress
They are concerned to provide for:
Caring and responsible planning and management of animals
Skilled knowledgeable and conscientious stockmanship
Appropriate environmental design and
Considerate handling and transport
These expectations by our overseas customers will push for changes in New Zealand. The
customer will continue to be the most important driver for the New Zealand dairy industry as
increasingly judgements are made about New Zealand products based on concerns about food
safety, environmental issues and animal welfare. Outbreaks of BSE, E. coli, Salmonella and
more recently foot and mouth have raised questions about management systems of food
producers. An awareness of the state of the environment in their own country has raised
expectations of their own dairy industry and of foreign sources of product.
Is had been said that New Zealand is too Eurocentric - we have good reason to be as it is
the highest value overseas markets. Would you opt out of sharing in the higher returns from the
EU? In New Zealand we want all product produced from our factories to be able to be exported
to the EU.
Seeking out markets unconcerned about these issues (i.e. ignoring the EU, Japan and
USA) is not an option. We need the high value markets and it’s in our own interest to look after
the environment and address the consumers’ concerns about food safety, environmental issues
and animal welfare. If we don’t supply what they want, when they want it, they will get it from
Additionally, how New Zealanders see the dairy industry is also important.
The local market can’t be ignored - we consume $800 million of dairy products.
People’s perceptions can be very different about environment and animal health. Two
people of different cultures and two different markets can look at the same thing and see things
completely differently. For example, a mob-stocking regime over winter may be acceptable to
people in New Zealand, but may be seen as cruelty to animals and as having harmful affects on
the soil by Europeans. Tail docking, induction, penning bobby calves beside the road and
leaving dead stock on the side of the road for collection are unacceptable to growing segments
of the international and local markets.
The industry has identified issues that give a negative view of dairy production to
overseas consumers and aims to address them over the next few years. The dairy industry has
developed environmental guidelines aimed to protect the marketing advantages given by our
clean green image and to meet the growing concerns expressed in New Zealand about the
affects of dairying on the environment.
The dairy industry is under increased scrutiny at home about its effects on the
environment. Because the industry is growing and is in the news often, it has become a target
for local issues and there is often misinformation in the media. We need less anecdotal comment
and more hard indicators about impacts on environmental performance.
Water is often taken for granted in New Zealand. In some areas and for a number of
reasons, water quality and availability have decreased. It is often easy to single out the dairy
industry as “the cause” because it is expanding and is receiving a lot of publicity. But
intensification of any land use, be it urban expansion, horticulture, grapes, forestry or dairying,
will have effects on water quality and availability.
There are steps farmers can take to minimise the impact on water quality. There is a
marketing advantage in our doing so and it doesn’t mean we lose our competitiveness.
Areas that dairy farmers need to address are:
Disposal of farm effluent to reduce risks to water systems. Develop disposal
systems that meet the requirements of the Resource Management Act
Preventing stock access to waterways by fencing off rivers creeks and drains.
Fencing need not be expensive. Stock becoming caste and dying in the river is a
cost you can do without
Minimise fertiliser runoff into waterways and groundwater. Take care when
spreading. Carrying out a nutrient budget helps to apply only what is needed
and this can minimise leaching
Control stock access to natural wetlands. These wetlands provide some
treatment of nutrient runoff from agricultural land
Water availability and allocation are growing issues in some regions. These are not
discussed here. However, they will drive research into efficient use of water resources and
The industry has been involved in the development of “Market Focused,” an
environmental management system for New Zealand dairy farmers which has recently been
released. It addresses issues of concern to international markets and New Zealand. “Market
Focused” provides farmers with a process for meeting the requirements of the industry related
to environment and animal welfare issues outlined above. The programme supported by both
the industry and regional authorities, sets objectives and helps farmers identify and manage
areas of concern on their property.
Table 1: Areas addressed by “Market Focused.”
Effluent Management Water Management
Fertiliser Management Waste Management
Soil Management Pesticide/Agrichemical Management
Animal Husbandry Animal Feeding Practices
Disease and injury control Animal Environment
The uptake by farmers of programmes like this is essential as it allows solutions for their
business. Having regulation and solutions imposed is not the preferred option. Progress is
needed to meet the challenges being put forward in New Zealand and overseas.
The New Zealand dairy industry must be committed to sound environmental management
and enhancement of the natural environment. We must enhance our environmental record and
the market’s perception of the New Zealand dairy farmers’ effect on the environment.
Dairy and the Environment Committee. 2001. Market Focused: An Environmental Management
System for New Zealand Dairy Farmers.
The Dairy Industry recently approved environmental and animal welfare policies with deadlines
on when they are to be implemented. Workshop participants were asked to prioritise these for discussion,
The following policies were considered to not have barriers to their adoption on farm:
Spreading human waste onto farms
Bobby calf collection
Dead cow collection
However, there are likely to be barriers in adopting the following:
Farm dairy effluent
Access to waterways/wetlands
Most participants use it as a management tool (between 2-7 % of herd), but no one suggested
they need it for a long-term management tool.
Some debate whether South Island situation is different due to sourcing cows from outside the
area and the need to correct calving date in cows
Need to define the term "only in exceptional circumstances” with regard to future induction
Lacking information highlighting best management practices on non-inducing farms.
Research wanted on nutritional requirements to minimise inductions - particularly for
improving conception rates, rather than submission rates
Access to waterways/wetlands
Definition of a waterway e.g. man-made drain versus natural stream.
Agreement to a more pro-active approach by the Industry to influence perceptions of the non-
dairy industry within New Zealand.
Farm dairy effluent
Better practices needed for spray irrigated effluent on tile and mole drained soils.
The effect of grazed animals/stocking rate on waterways may be more of an issue than point
Relationship with Regional Councils needs working on from both sides.
Workshop participants want more policing of farmers who flout regulation.
How much is too much?
Need to demystify the myths of groundwater contamination from fertiliser.
There are a lot of unwarranted perceptions in the non-dairying sector and the dairy Industry - not just the
individual farmer - needs to be pro-active in influencing these.