How Fonterra supports sustainable dairy farming

Sarah English, a Fonterra Sustainable Dairying Advisor, talks to us about her role in supporting dairy farmers and their sustainability journey.

15 Apr 2020

4 min

#Blog #New Zealand #Sustainability

In New Zealand, the journey to sustainable dairy nutrition begins on the farm, led by passionate farmers that care about the land and the animals they are responsible for.

That is why our parent company Fonterra, owned by 10,000 farming families, has prioritised providing their farmers with a team of Sustainable Dairying Advisors. The role of these Fonterra Sustainable Dairying Advisors (SDA) is so special and unique that we reached out to Sarah English, an SDA since 2012, to tell our readers more about how she and her colleagues work with farmers to champion sustainability on-farm.

Q. What is a Fonterra Sustainable Dairying Advisor (SDA)?

Fonterra Sustainable Dairying Advisors are a source of specialised regional knowledge and expertise designed to support best practice farm management and empower farmers to achieve their sustainability goals. Our Sustainable Dairy Advisors (SDA’s) are on hand with a free suite of tools and services to assist with a broad range of sustainability-related farm matters for Fonterra farmers.

A Fonterra SDA typically looks after an area that has around 400-500 farmers. It takes a unique person to be a Sustainable Dairying Advisor.  Whilst we need to be familiar with different farm systems and technical concepts (such as nutrient management and greenhouse gas emissions), we also need to be able to communicate this in a way that engages farmers to make changes to their businesses.

Environmental expectations are constantly evolving so SDA’s tend to be naturally inquisitive to ensure that we are providing the best, most relevant service and guidance. We need to stay up-to-date with changing regulations (regionally and nationally), as well as relevant research and projects, to keep our farmers well informed and equipped to make decisions.

Fonterra farmers and employees talking at a table drinking tea

Q. What are the key services and support SDAs provide farmers?

SDAs offer a full suite of services that aim to improve on-farm sustainability. Some of the services include:

  • Effluent system management support.
  • Riparian and waterways management advice.
  • Nutrient management advice.
  • Farm Environment Plans, which set targets and actions to improve sustainability performance.

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Our goal is to support farmers in their sustainability journey; we work one-on-one with farmers to identify challenges and opportunities unique to their farm.

Sarah English | Fonterra Sustainable Dairying Advisor 

SDAs are also a conduit to other services and offerings. We have relationships with industry partners in New Zealand and can point the farmer in the right direction for specialist advice, for example:

  • Partnership with Wildlands consulting; who will develop and undertake the delivery of farm-specific planting initiatives and maintenance at market leading rates and guaranteeing plant survival rates.
  • Through our Living Water partnership (with the Department of Conservation) we are able to utilise specialist knowledge to support our farmers biodiversity aspirations.
Fonterra workers talking on a Fonterra farm

Q. How is a Farm Environment Plan (FEP) created, and how does it benefit the farmer?

A Farm Environment Plan is vital for the long-term planning of a sustainable dairy farm and considers all aspects of the land management decisions on the farm such as:

  • Pasture and crop management
  • Waterways stock exclusion and riparian planting
  • Effluent infrastructure systems and management
  • Nutrient management decisions to optimise pasture production in order and minimise environmental losses.

To create an FEP we must spend time with the farmer looking over the farm, identifying potential sustainable improvement areas and discussing potential solutions tailored to that particular farm.

All this data is captured using cutting-edge geospatial mapping software.

Once we have helped the farmer decide how they want to tackle any identified areas for improvement, the SDA will write up an action plan – describing any challenge(s) and setting a plan and target date to resolve them. A draft plan is shared back with the dairy farmer and changes made if required. Of course, as well as identifying areas for improvement, we also look at current good farm management practices – acknowledging them where they exist and encouraging more of these through actions in the plan.

An FEP helps a farmer to understand how their decisions and actions impact the environment in which they operate, improve awareness, ensure compliance to rules and prioritise actions to help protect and enhance the environment while maintaining productivity and profitability.

Q. Why do you believe it’s important for farmers to invest in sustainable farming practices?

With the increasing focus on the environment (water degradation, climate change) and the increasing global population, it is important that our food is produced in a sustainable manner. We will need to continue to use the land and natural resources and cannot afford to use them in such a way that we would deplete them. All farmers depend on the environment for the success of their business as well as for their own personal survival, so they have a vested interest in nurturing and protecting it.

Want to know more?

Read the full Perspective article on Sarah English's experience as a Fonterra SDA

Meet Sarah English, the interviewee 

Sarah English

Sustainable Dairying Advisor

Sarah English has been a Fonterra Sustainable Dairying Advisor since 2012. As well as being employed fulltime as an SDA with Fonterra, she also works on the stud beef breeding farm with her husband and mother. Sarah’s upbringing on the family farm and love of the environment, complimented with tertiary study (BSc(Zoology) and GradDip ed) have provided a great base knowledge for the SDA role.

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