The changes will save money, reduce environmental impact, and increase profits, says the company.
Landcorp says it will significantly reduce dairy’s footprint from the original plans and instead include alternative uses for the 14,500 hectares of former forestry land it leases from Wairakei Pastoral Limited (WPL).
Under the new plan, the land leased would be used for dairy (irrigated and dryland), dairy support, and sheep milking. Other potential uses are also being investigated.
Modeling and discussions prompt changes
Wairakei Estate currently comprises 13 dairy farms with 17,000 cows over 6,400 hectares. The new land-use model will see the eventual number of dairy farms and cows on the Wairakei Estate significantly reduced from the 39 originally planned when the estate is fully developed.
Steven Carden, chief executive of Landcorp, said scientific modeling, done in conjunction with external environmental and farm systems experts, indicated the new land-use program and smaller dairy footprint will result in a significant reduction in the level of nitrogen leached.
The amount of capital invested in the project is expected to be approximately $16.9m-$23.6m (NZ$25m-35m) lower than originally planned, with improved profitability across the development.
Landcorp said that the land-use changes reduce the risk of phosphate and sediment loss and bacterial contamination and should result in a significant drop in the levels of nitrogen leachate.
Importance of environmental impact
Carden said, “Landcorp’s strategy is to connect the food we produce on our farms with high value consumers around the world under our new Pāmu brand.
“To do that, we need to exceed their expectations about how that food is produced, whether it is the standard of care for the animals, the people who work on the farm, or the environmental impact of producing that food.”
Carden said that the new direction includes focusing on new niche and premium products such as sheep milk.
He added that, “This decision makes environmental and economic sense. We’re working hard to ensure our farming system is profitable and productive for the right reasons and reflects our commitment to being open and transparent about our operations.”
Praise from Green Party
New Zealand’s Green Party also praised the decision.
“Landcorp’s decision to not proceed with its intensification program, in part because of environmental concerns, is a huge victory for the farmers, iwi, fisher people and all those worried about the impact of increasing dairying on the Waikato River,” said Green Party water spokesperson Catherine Delahunty.
Abandon all dairy expansion
“We congratulate Landcorp for listening, and the next step is for the Government to listen to those who want our rivers protected. Stop pushing for more cows over the environment, and commit to swimmable rivers, rather than merely water that you can dip your toe in,” she added.
“More than two thirds of our rivers aren’t clean enough to swim in, and a big part of the problem is large scale dairy farming. By scaling back its plans to put more cows on Waikato land, Landcorp has given our precious waterways a better chance of survival.
“The next step would be to abandon all plans to increase dairying on the Wairakei Estate.”
Less nutrient pressure
Dr Mike Joy, freshwater ecologist at Massey University, believes Landcorp’s decision represents a significant win for the environment.
“I’ve challenged Landcorp on its dairy program at Wairakei. It is pleasing to see them proactively changing tack on the development to significantly reduce its environmental footprint.”
Federated Farmers said that it is also pleased to see Landcorp taking a proactive approach to reducing nutrient pressure in the broader Waikato catchment area and reducing the amount of water sourced for its activities.
Federated Farmers president, William Rolleston, said, “Improving water management and water quality are key priorities for farmers and all other water users. Landcorp has taken the initiative here and should be applauded for their efforts and aspirations.”