Over 420 dairy farmers gathered in Oamaru on day one of the South Island’s largest dairy sector event – SIDE 2022 – to build their skills and discuss solutions to challenges facing the farming sector.
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The SIDE theme is dynamic and SIDE chair Anna Wakelin opened the event by saying that farmers across New Zealand are taking control of their futures and standing up for positive change.

“We’re on the right track. It’s tough, but we can be proud of our low carbon footprint, our innovation and progress, and our work which supports communities through the bad times and the good.

“It’s staggering that just 11,000 dairy farms contribute almost $21 billion to New Zealand’s economy,” she added.

The first keynote speakers farmers Geoff and Justine Ross of Lake Hawea Station shared their story of how they became New Zealand’s first carbon-positive certified farm.

The couple developed 42 Below vodka, then later left their Auckland home to farm in Otago.

They applied their knowledge of marketing and branding to their farming businesses and visited their international customers to understand their needs.

“We saw an opportunity to create carbon positive wool produced to the highest animal welfare standards, using a new shearing model based on care for the sheep, which fashion brands would be prepared to pay a premium for,” Geoff explains.

“Having to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is creating a lot of anxiety amongst farmers, but we can also see this as an opportunity.”

The couple are excited about the opportunities to reduce emissions by using voluntary native carbon credits, asparagopsis seaweed, vaccines, selective breeding, changing stock diets, and other emerging technologies.

Justine finished with the message that farmers can contribute to finding climate solutions, and that they should be brave and share their stories with the world as their customers want to hear them.

Former Rocket Lab mechanical engineer Craig Piggott discussed how technology was driving change in the farming sector and enabling farmers to become more profitable, improve animal care and reduce workload on farms.

Craig is the founder of Halter which uses software and solar-powered cow collars to guide cow movements. This technology allows farmers to use virtual fencing and remove fence lines, schedule cow movements on the farm, and draft herds in a paddock.

“Farmers tell us that Halter allows them to look after their land and animals better, and be more profitable too,” Craig says.

“We want to build a product which helps keep cows happy and healthy. Moving herds virtually helps keep cows really calm, as it’s not stressful.”

Craig says the company is innovating fast to respond to farmer needs by developing new tools, and he expects the pace of change will continue to increase rapidly.

“You have to think outside the box to become better. One of the strengths of the New Zealand dairy industry is also that everyone works together and you need to be able to do that to innovate.”

Over SIDE’s two days, farmers can also participate in four of 14 practical workshops on topics including wintering, milk futures, reproduction, plantain and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

State agriculture officials are expected to roll out an income replacement program soon.

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