|dc.description.abstract||This project investigated the business, environmental and social sustainability of dairy farms that include dairy support land (DSL).
Seventeen farmers were interviewed during the winter of 2008 using Yin’s case study method (Yin, 2003). The interviewees were selected from a list provided during two focus groups meetings with rural professionals prior to the main body of the research.
DSL farmer’s perceptions of sustainability are primarily defined by separation into factors internal to the farm system that are easy to control and external factors that are difficult to control, which they are very concerned about. While in a few cases, DSL was actively involved
in business growth, as with sharemilkers leasing DSL for example, those interviewed saw that the primary roles of dairy support land are to achieve self-sufficiency and protect the dairy farm from external factors. Division into economic, environmental and social sustainability is nevertheless useful in understanding farmer goals with DSL.
Dairy farms are vulnerable to externalities because of high fixed costs. The ability of DSL to manage externalities relates to the quantity of feed grown and the relationship between cow condition and milk production, and therefore feed grown is perceived as the most appropriate measure of performance. Economic indices, such as the ability to minimize or control costs, are seen as a crucial, but secondary considerations. All of those interviewed believed that the
addition of DSL enhanced the economic sustainability of the dairy system and provided a mixture of clearly defined cost savings and intangible benefits. There is an acceptance that the addition of
DSL has potential to introduce new risks to the system.
For dairy support land to be environmentally sustainable, it must be well resourced. On a fully resourced DSL unit, there will be time to plan and carry out essential tasks and environmentally important developments such as riparian fences and stockwater systems are likely to be in place. Knowledge is effectively a resource problem; it costs time and money to gain and a lack of knowledge will lead directly to problems just as with under-investment in other kinds of
resources. If the DSL unit is not fully resourced it will become a liability to the overall system as the supply of feed becomes unreliable, cows calve in poor condition and dairy farm staff and management are overextended. Problems were more evident on leased blocks where there was no arrangement with the landowner to address structural issues, or insufficient time to benefit from invested capital.
Many saw that it is not only possible to farm in an environmentally sustainable manner without resort to uneconomic developments or production losses but that good husbandry practices lead
to both positive economic outcomes and positive environmental outcomes. Examples include good grazing management, nutrient budgeting and using fertilizer appropriately, using eco-N and
using appropriate tillage methods for the situation. Negative environmental effects are often linked to failure to perform economically. Many interviewed believed that practices that bring
environmental and economic drivers into line should be a focus of extension by universities, regional councils and industry organizations.
There is recognition that addition of DSL may result in increased pressures for managers as they are required to take responsibility for ensuring DSL tasks are planned and executed well and must
supervise staff on the DSL as well as the MP. Managers need to be aware of the demands that the addition of DSL or operating for 12 months place on staff, and failure to address problems
with staff is likely to result in economic losses and further stress for the manager. On the other hand, dairy farm systems that include DSL can manage the increased reliance on staff by making the farm a better place to work in terms of job variety, skill and career development and other benefits. And this can help address external social factors such as staff shortages. Difficulties in obtaining staff and rising compliance costs are seen as significant and difficult to control external
threats to the future sustainability of dairy farming.
Thus while all those interviewed saw that economic, environmental and social sustainability were compatible and achievable with intelligent application of resources including physical resources
such as feed and machinery, management time and knowledge, and capital developments, part of the role of the DSL is to protect the MP from variations in climate or the feed market. When forced to choose between the sustainability of the DSL component of the business and the sustainability of the MP component, the sustainability of the MP will always come first.
While rural professionals involved in the focus group meetings were strongly of the view that commercial separation between the MP and DSL, and use of separate management structures, commercial drivers and formal monitoring systems were important for sustainability, this
appeared to be dependant on conditions at the site and most of the farmers interviewed felt that these were not essential for the DSL to reach its full potential to support the farming business.
Most did agree that planning and attention to detail in critical tasks such as crop establishment and grazing management are vital to success. Planning is important to avoid wasted resources
and ensure tasks are done properly and on time, and those interviewed were prepared to spend a lot of time planning and designing good systems.
While some of the technical details were seen as being different between cases – the relative benefits and costs of all–grass systems vs crops, for example, or the need for transition feeding,
whether or not DSL may assist with reduction or elimination of inductions – and there are particular management considerations in different circumstances – dryland vs irrigated blocks,
adjacent vs distant DSL, and so on - the case studies demonstrated that the fundamentals of sustainability and practice remain constant across a variety of soil and climatic conditions in Canterbury and Southland. Relative scale, not absolute scale, climatic conditions or soil type appears to be the key determinant of how DSL is used. Canterbury dairy systems are relatively more intensive than Southland systems, but amount of feed grown, controlling costs and protecting MP production are the key drivers in both regions.
There appeared to be some difference in Southern Southland. Although it is possible to achieve sustainable outcomes with DSL, the tendency for farmers to convert DSL to MP suggests that the best economic use of land in this region may be milk production.||en