I’ve had one planting season, in May last year. Tens of thousands of plants went in the ground. No, I didn’t plant them myself, I coordinate the contracts, help place plant orders, contract the labourers.
I work with farmers to protect water quality in the Kaniwhaniwha Catchment around Te Pahu. We are trying to get everyone on board in the catchment. The science says that’s where high sediment loads are coming from. The soil gets in the streams. It goes into the Waipa River and into the Waikato River and then out to sea. Sediment has a big impact on river ecology because it smothers plants and fish life, is bad for the health of our rivers. Sediment also carries phosphorus which fuels nuisance plant growth and algae growth, which lowers oxygen levels.
Everything is connected – what happens on the land happens in the water. It’s not a simple thing to figure out either. It all takes long periods of time. Even if we were to get rid of all the farmed animals today we could still see the water quality continue to decline, there’s a lag.
I can see that we need to use the land, have farming and production, but there is always smarter ways of doing things. We need to realise that all the resources aren’t infinite, we need to be more sustainable. For us it’s low hanging fruit: fencing, planting, erosion control. I definitely feel strongly about it. It’s the way I was brought up, who I am. I get a lot of enjoyment from being outdoors.
My job is super-cool. I get to go to really cool places. I always make farmers walk around. Many of them don’t often have time to do that, take the time out to just walk around their farms and actually take a good look. We identify areas for fencing and planting, and what types of plants would be suitable.
I get to have a sense of achievement, we are on the doing end. All the science and policy has been done, plans have been written about it, and we are helping farmers do something positive.
The ultimate thing we are trying to do is not just protect streams and wetlands – it’s about trying to reduce erosion on hill country – trying to hold on to our topsoils. In some cases, we’d like to see farmers retire hills for forestry, mānuka or allow natural regeneration. We have really good funding subsidies for the catchment I’m working in. At the moment we can give up to 70 per cent funding – it’s a joint project between council and WRA (Waikato River Authority).
It’s going to be a really long time type of journey, but there’s already a shift in thinking. For the younger farmers, it is more normal for them, which is cool.