Farmers and rural professionals have turned out to hear first-hand how to future proof their farms and make them more resilient.

Pamu’s Eyrewell Dairy Farm opened its gates on Wednesday to more than 100 people in a bid to challenge the way people think and learn from each other.

Organised by a team from Farmlands, Pamu, Ballance Agri-nutrients and Synlait, it’s hoped the Tomorrow’s Farms Farm Day will be rolled out across the country.

Pamu Dairy Operations General Manager, Mark Julian says they wanted to show change doesn’t have to be stressful.

“Canterbury is going to be a hot spot for environmental limits to farming obviously, so one of the big take home messages was our Eyrewell Dairy Farm changing the farm system to a lower nitrogen leaching farm, but also achieve other goals around animal welfare, reducing bobby calves and also looking at other innovations such as fertigation and using alternative foragers.”

The Eyrewell farm has traditionally milked 1,000 cows, but is downsizing to 600 cows over three years in a bid to reduce nitrogen emissions.

Now at a herd of 800, part of the plan is to rear and grow out young stock including bobby calves and keep them on the farm.

“The farm reduces in total milk production but now has dairy and beef as another revenue line coming out of the farm system,” he says.

“By changing that, we change from female mixed age dairy cows to a mixture of young stock being grown out on farm. We are targeting primarily steers and male animals which have a lower nitrogen footprint in terms of urine that come out of those animals as well.”

Changing the farm process included a multiple wins system which also added on-farm safety benefits, he says.

Pamu started on a safety journey in 2015, previously Landcorp, after three separate on-farm fatalities in a year.

One of the safety benefits of changing the farm system included raising steers not bulls.

Mark says this put workers in a better position on a daily basis, moving and dealing with stock with less aggression and behavioural issues.

“We should be looking at not just trying to solve one problem,” he says.

“We obviously are reducing the nitrogen leached out of this farm system because of the water quality issues in Canterbury but secondly we also wanted to keep an economic return and thirdly, keep a safe workplace.”

The farm has also moved to lower nitrogen crops such as Lucerne and has been using fertigation to further reduce total nitrogen. 

With the irrigation system already delivering water across the farm, using pivots to apply liquid fertiliser reduces double handling and puts less vehicles on the farm.

“We know vehicles are the primary cause of serious harm and fatalities on farm so we reduce that risk on farm as well,” Mark says.

Agricultural Leaders’ Health and Safety Action Group General Manager Tony Watson says good farmers are already making safety part of everyday business.

“Productivity and safety go hand in hand. When things are well organised and run smoothly, people are less likely to be rushing around fixing things which can lead to mistakes and fatigue.”

Mark Julian says being a State Owned Enterprise, Pamu needs to set the standard, innovate and take risks other farmers may be too scared to make on their own.  

Opening the gates gave those farmers real life examples that can help them, he says, not just concepts.

It allowed them to ask questions from the farm team who work with the systems every day around Lucerne’s seeding rates, weed control and the practicalities of achieving alternative foragers.

“The big take home message is that change is always going to be there no matter what and we’ve got to look forward with positivity and use innovation. Farmers are natural innovators and the innovative farmers are ahead of research, they’re ahead of the industry and they’re ahead of government in terms of how land use is going to build into the future.”

Mark says every generation has a different set of challenges, such as the subsidy removal in the 1980’s.

“Farmers are naturally by and large environmentalists and they want to look after people and animals so there will be a way through that we can help in that conversation but there’s a lot of farmers out there innovating to so we have to share these stories.”