NZ Dairy Winter 2022

| 57 nzdairy DAIRY PEOPLE » James & Haley Robinson Organic move has couple ahead of the pack Richard Loader Manawatu farmers James and Haley Robinson commenced their organic dairy farming journey during the 2017/2018 season and say they are now well ahead of many of the environmental issues currently facing conventional farmers. At the time the Robinsons were 50/50 sharemilkers on the 90-hectare farm owned by Haley’s parents. Already leasing neighbouring land to extend the milking platform, when more neighbouring land became available for lease James and Haley were at a cross road – do they increase stock numbers or look at other options to better utilise the additional land? Increasing the size of the herd would have necessitated an increase in staff numbers, and the existing shed was too small, James says. “By increasing the milking platform we could effectively reduce the stocking rate. We were already a low input farm and not too far off the organic route, so we decided that was the path we would go down. Faced with increasing environmental restrictions being placed on farmers, we thought we would try to be a step ahead. Everyone is going to be forced into being semi-organic, whether they like it or not. My father-in-law was very good in allowing us to try new things, before we bought the farm. It took us three years to become fully certi ed through AsureQuality, certifying all our support land as well.” James says there were a number of challenges in the early days, particularly with the lack of information about organic farming. “It’s a lot easier now than what it was even ve years ago. At the time I didn’t realise that organic farmers are very open to helping out and sharing knowledge. So we struggled on for a couple of years. But there are four or ve of us organic farmers around here and we all get on well and meet regularly. Being organic, you do get a feeling that you’re doing things better for the whole place, doing your part and not abusing the land. Organics ticks all those environmental issues fairly easily – there’s no nitrogen use for example. The animals are de nitely healthier and our animal health costs have halved. With the lower stocking rate there is less stress on the whole system – it’s a bit more relaxed, and especially combined with the once-a-day milking system.” James and Haley bought the family farm in 2020. Located in the small rural area of Rongotea, just west of Palmerston North, the milking platform encompasses 140 hectares, including 50 hectares of neighbouring lease land, and is home to 300 cows. The couple also own a 40-hectare run-off a few kilometres away, and lease two smaller blocks within the district. All support land is used for young stock, wintering cows and growing supplement. “We have heavy clay soil on the milking platform,” says James. “Recently we built quite a big dairy barn which we will use mainly for calving and the wet periods in the spring.” Just after buying the farm James and Haley transitioned to full season once-a-day milking, which has proven kinder on people, the animals, the land and energy costs. “It has also provided a lot of exibility, allowing us to spend a lot of time with our three children.” “Organics ticks all those environmental issues fairly easily – there’s no nitrogen use for example.” TALK TO THE EXPERTS FOR FARMING SUPPORT CONSTRUCTION 027 675 6699 HOMES + RENOVATIONS + FARM BUILDINGS James and Haley bought the family farm in the small rural area of Rongotea in 2020.