62 | nzdairy Forging relationship with council helpful Photos: Aerial view of 4.5ha wetland on the van Ras farm. The Carex grass trial in action. Close up of wetland planting. Karen Phelps Since winning at the 2021 Ballance Farm Environment Awards, Regional Supreme Winners 2021 Johan and Kylie van Ras from Waiorongomai Valley Farms in Morrinsville say one of the best outcomes has been developing a stronger relationship with local council. Council has visited the farm open day and asked questions and the results has been a Carex grasses concept trail on the van Ras farm to help protect waterways for mutual bene t. “I’m really excited about it,” Johan says, “because it does x a common problem farmers face and also an environmental issue.” The van Ras family has planted Carex germinata and virgata varieties at 0.5 metre intervals along both banks of a waterway. Traditionally farmers would have sprayed the waterway to keep weed growth down also killing off grasses as well with the result being sediment moving into the waterway. Johan says that because Carex grasses have a deep root system, with rhizomes that grow through the bank sending up shoots and holding the bank structure together, this provides soil stability. The plants also grow over the waterway but don’t block it with the added bene t of cooler water creating increased biodiversity. If spraying is required there are options, which don’t kill the Carex but generally it’s a low maintenance system for both farmers and council, says Johan. He expects within a year the plants to be fully mature and offering peak bene t. He says Carex can also be planted near fence lines with no need to move them as cows graze right up to it and keep it off the wires. The van Ras farm is a family affair, co-owned by Johan and Kylie and Johan’s parents Richard and Truus. They purchased the farm in 2010 after previously leasing another farm for six years. The 66ha effective/76ha total farm has 8 ha of maize and runs 215 crossbred cows milked through DAIRY PEOPLE » Johan van Ras a 20-aside herringbone shed that has been fully adapted to accommodate Johan’s 6 foot 5 inch height. While aiming to constantly improve their environmental impact this must be balanced with pro tability, says Johan. This has seen them keen adopters of technology and they have invested in a unique water treatment system for iron and manganese, which has had a big impact on their farm. “We noticed the kids seemed to always have a sore tummy so we tested the water and found it was high in E. coli, iron and manganese. We put in a UV lter at the shed and Davey asked to do a trial of an iron and manganese ltration system so we agreed and it’s improved the water quality for both humans and animals.” It has contributed to a reduction in somatic cell counts and cows now drink more water and more quickly as it tastes better, no longer congregating around the trough, says Johan. It’s also aided their mineral dosage through Dosatron. The van Ras family also recycle their plastics and scrap metal and have planted 8000 natives on 4.5ha of riparian planting. They won the Ballance Agri-Nutrients Soil Management Award, DairyNZ Sustainability and Stewardship Award, WaterForce Integrated Management Award and the Synlait Future Leaders Award. Johan has joined the Dairy Environment Leaders Forum for the Waikato, has visited the Piako Catchment Forum to answer questions and is near completing seven years as chairperson on the local school board of trustees. He is part of the Rabobank Client Council network and has recently been appointed onto the LIC Shareholders Reference Group. He admits since the family purchased the farm they’ve done a lot – fencing, drainage, paddock recontouring, shelter belts to name but a few. “If farmers are looking to make a change for the better of the environment I would say don’t hesitate. There are plenty of people out there who can advise and it’s about taking that rst step. If you do the rewards will be quick.” “If farmers are looking to make a change for the better of the environment I would say don’t hesitate. There are plenty of people out there who can advise and it’s about taking that rst step.