What would an exemplary dairy farm in Northland look like? This farm would be designed and developed to minimise emissions and optimise soil health and carbon content.

1. Marginal land is protected

Dairy farms tend be on land more stable than dry stock and are less prone to erosion. However stream banks and wetlands can be damaged by stock thus need protection.

2. Stocking rates suit land capability

Dairy stocking rates are intensified in the pursuit of higher production causing strain on the ecosystem and require higher levels of inputs to maintain production. This in turn increases greenhouse emissions for that farm. There is plenty of evidence of dairy farmers moderating stocking rates while maintaining satisfactory levels of production. Even where production is lower, the lower cost of inputs can more than compensate for lower production.

3. Production is diversified

Diversification enables multiple land uses reducing the need to overstock. A common diversification for dairy is cheese production, and kiwi farmers have developed award winning boutique cheeses. Here is an example.

Biddy Fraser-Davies makes about $40,000 of award-winning cheese from four cows. Northland also has a range of award winning cheese makers.

Another avenue for dairy diversification is timber. Graham and Tess Smith supplement income from a small Waikato farm with paulownia’s. The trees enhance the pasture, provide additional feed and grow a valuable timber.


Paulownias on the Smith Farm (Paulownia NZ)

The establishment in 2017 of the New Zealand Tropical Fruit Growers Association will raise interest in bananas as a diversification option.

4. Pasture is diversified and managed to optimise soil health

Often, dairy pasture is monocultural, relying heavily of ryegrass or kikuyu. For diversification, clovers and chicory are mentioned in this Grassland’s publication. A diverse pasture is more likely to support animal health.

This Dairy NZ page covers pasture management.

In this video Ange and Mike discuss their organic practices on their Hawkes Bay dairy farm. At 15 minutes 40, Mike lists the pasture species – red and white clovers, chicory, plantain, annual rye, perennial rye, timothy, and prairie grass.

Note that Managed Grazing is solution #19 with potential to sequester 16.34 gigatonnes of CO2 over 30 years.

5. It is run organically

A core function of organic farming systems is to build soil quality. I recall some decades ago visiting John Pearce’s farm at south Kaipara and see soil profiles where John claimed the topsoil had increased significantly in depth with biodynamic treatments. The soil carbon content will have dramatically increased.

Here is the story of Neil Armitage’s organic farm in the Hawkes Bay. Agin the focus is on the soil.

6. Energy use is sustainable and cooling systems have low impact refrigerants

As with dry stock farming, sustainable farms will cut emissions through renewable energy for power and transport. Another important initiative to reduce emissions is to update refrigeration using low emission refrigerants.

7. Waterways are protected

Dairy farmers have invested a lot in riparian plantings as evidenced by the Water Accord. From a climate change perspective, reducing the use of nitrogenous fertilisers will both improve water quality and reduce emissions. Riparian plantings also reduce stream bank erosion.


  • How many dairy farmers are farming organically in Northland?
  • What are best practices that build soil carbon?
  • Where are the examples of farms diversifying pasture including fodder trees?
  • Where are the examples of farmers diversifying income streams?
  • What appropriate stocking rates for a range of Northland soils?
  • How can clusters of organic dairy farms be fostered to facilitate more efficient milk collection and processing?
  • How can this solution be implemented in a manner that supports vulnerable populations?