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Brian Hanna with his dog, and a protected peat lake in the background

Introducing Brian Hanna

Brian and his wife Andrea own a sheep and beef farm near Te Kuiti. Brian is also mayor of the Waitomo district and is a community representative on the Healthy Rivers: Plan for Change/Wai Ora: He Rautaki Whakapaipai project’s Collaborative Stakeholder Group (CSG).

Brian is one of a number of farmers on the CSG grappling with the difficult task of setting limits and targets for the Waikato and Waipa River catchments. We caught up with Brian and asked about his work on the CSG. 

What are the challenges ahead?

There’s been a huge amount of on-farm work, such as fencing off waterways and changing management practices. The challenges are recognising that the two rivers (Waikato and Waipa) are in a poor state and the Crown settlements with River iwi have set a new benchmark. Iwi want the rivers restored to swimmable and fishable. The challenge is how we institute change to achieve these goals. Intensive dairy and sheep and beef contribute to the four contaminants (nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment and micro-organisms) and that is what we need to address.

Where is this likely to take us?

Recognising that the rivers have degraded over a long period of time, any change will require realistic timeframes to allow farmers to adjust.  This could mean different things for different catchments depending on soil type, topography and so on. For example clay soils in west Waikato are about the loss of sediment. I think there will be nitrogen and phosphorus limits in certain catchments and in other areas it will be around land class and limits imposed around what activity can be carried out. It has taken time to get to where we are and it will take some time to make improvements. There may be impositions for some farmers but for the majority, simply finetuning their systems could be all that’s required.

What can I do now?

Now it’s about continual improvement, excluding cattle from waterways and reducing as much run off from the farm as possible. We can utilize existing resources such as farm plans, land environment plans and so on.

For more information, to sign up to be 'part of the solution' and get involved later this year, or to receive an e-newsletter visit www.waikatoregion.govt.nz/healthyrivers

Recommended reading for the UN International Year of Soils 2015

The middle of the Pacific seems a strange place to learn about soils. But histories of tiny Pacific islands provide perfect examples of how soil management practices can sustain or doom a society.

Both Mangaia (Cook Islands) and Tikopia (Solomon Islands) were covered with thick forests and uninhabited until small groups of Polynesians arrived some 2500 to 3000 years ago. Forests were cleared and cultivation expanded as the populations grew to 5000 at its peak.

On Mangaia, taro cultivation on volcanic slopes led to loss of topsoil. With a shrinking resource base, violence erupted and by the time Captain Cook arrived in 1777 fewer than 1000 inhabitants remained.

On Tikopia, a specially adapted form of agroforestry was developed that sustained soil fertility and crop yields. Local legend has it that pigs were eliminated from the island because they were seen to be causing too much damage to the plant crops. The agroforestry practices are highly sophisticated and remain largely in place today following a 1000 year history of relative stability. This was coupled with a zero population growth ideology that was strictly enforced.

These are just two examples of David Montgomery’s book dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations. His decision not to capitalise the first word of the book’s title is perhaps a not-so-subtle indictment of soil’s seemingly unappreciated status as the root of all things. It is also an excellent primer for 2015, the United Nations International Year of Soils.

Montgomery goes on to describe the gradual erosion of soils in the Roman Empire, leading to increasing dependence on imported grain from North Africa. He notes that a lost shipment of grain from the fertile fields along the Nile would translate into months of hunger or even starvation for some in Rome.

How well are we retaining our soils in New Zealand? For techniques on retaining soils check out the Menu of practices to improve water quality: cropping land at www.farmmenus.org.nz. Cultivation techniques, bunds, sediment traps, grazing management and cut outs on tracks and races are among a number of practical things we can do to slow down the loss of sediment from our farms. 

For a good introduction to the soil loss through degradation, urbanisation, land grabbing and over-exploitation visit bit.ly/itsnotjustdirt. It’s a timely reminder of the value of dirt and the very long time it takes to develop.

Managing effluent on stock trucks

Stock effluent does not stop at the farm gate and you can help to minimise it when trucking stock. 

Autumn and winter are peak times for trucking stock, either for grazing or to the works.

We are careful about stock effluent on the farm as races and yards are drained to paddocks. Dairy shed effluent is pumped to the pond and then irrigated onto paddocks. But what happens to stock effluent from trucks?

Trucks can store from 200 to 400 litres of effluent, and can empty storage tanks at one of several stock truck effluent disposal facilities around the region.

However, stock truck effluent is frequently found on grass verges or roadside drains. More effluent facilities would help to minimise these random discharges. But facilities are expensive to build, partly because trucks need quick, safe and easy access to them.

You can help to minimise stock effluent on trucks by standing stock off green feed (with dry feed and water) for between 4 to 12 hours prior to transport. Stand off cows in a grazed out paddock or wood chip pad, rather than concrete. Being herded onto a truck stresses animals, and increases defecation. Stock also travel better with less in their gut, ensuring more secure footing.

Working together for the Waipa

Local farmers and whanau from Te Keeti marae are working together on a community initiated river restoration project.

With a drive to restore their section of the Waipa River and its tributary the Mohoanui Stream, residents received $650,000 of funding from Waikato River Authority, Mighty River Power, Maniapoto Māori Trust Board, Waikato Catchment Ecological Enhancement Trust, Otorohanga District Council, Native Forest Restoration Trust and Waikato Regional Council.

Six kilometres of the Waipa River upstream from Otorohanga will be cleared and planted in native species. Matsudana willow poles will be used to stabilise at risk areas of river bank.

In this first year of the three year project, old crack willow trees have been removed from a 2 kilometre stretch. Fences have been realigned to increase setbacks from the river and nearly 10,000 native plants will be planted this winter.

For more information visit makearipple.co.nz/waipa-rerenoa/

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