Sustainability and scientific innovation is high on the agenda of Waikato dairy farmer Grant Coombes.
As a candidate for the DairyNZ Board of Directors, Coombes says it’s time for farmers to embrace new technology and innovation as a way forward, to tackle issues such as environmental sustainability.
Coombes, a father of four children, lives at Taupiri, in the North Waikato. He runs a large-scale farming business with 2000 milking cows, plus dairy support and dry stock cattle, over some 750 hectares.
Like many younger farmers, he’s open to trying something new on the farm.
He’s in the process of phasing out his fleet of quad bikes for new electric motorbikes. “I’ve got seven Ubco2x2 electric bikes, and they are great,” says Coombes. “They are quiet and easy to operate. I’m passionate about sustainable farming and reducing emissions, so this is one way we can do that in our farm business.”
Coombes first heard about the Ubco bikes at New Zealand Agricultural Fieldays two years ago. “I’ve always been interested in innovation, so these caught my eye.”
Coombes says farmers he knows are committed to reducing their environmental footprint and to mitigating nitrogen leaching through riparian planting and fencing waterways and wetlands.
“Farmers across the country have invested a lot of time, effort and money to improve sustainability and protect the environment,” says Coombes. “They often get a hard time from their city cousins, but I think we should congratulate farmers for their efforts there.”
However, with regulatory and political pressures continuing to make demands on farmers, Coombes believes that new science and technology will be vital to many farmers.
“Farmers are working hard on sustainability and improving the health of waterways, and there are still new things that can be done,” says Coombes. “These days we are ‘farming in a fish bowl’, and that means that the wider community in New Zealand is looking at farming, and so too is the international community and our export markets. So it’s about continuing to look at new ways to improve sustainability on the farm.”
“New scientific developments and technology hold the key, and farmers can take heart in some of the innovative, ground-breaking discoveries happening in New Zealand.”
He says one example is CRV Ambreed’s LowN Sires, a genetic discovery announced in March which has the potential to reduce nitrogen leaching on New Zealand farms by 20% within 20 years. The company identified and selected bulls genetically superior for a new trait related to the amount of urea nitrogen in milk. Cows bred from these bulls are expected to excrete less nitrogen in their urine which will, in turn, reduce the amount of nitrogen leached from grazed pasture. This could potentially save New Zealand 10 million kilograms in nitrogen leaching a year, based on the national herd number of 6.5 million dairy cattle, says Coombes.
Another innovation, launched this month, is a plantain product called Ecotain, from Agricom. Coombes says Ecotain is designed to reduce nitrogen leaching from urine patches by up to 50%, and is another tool for dairy farmers.
Coombes says agricultural leaders need to step up and engage proactively in conversations in science and technology, and how it can help every farmer.
“It’s really important for our industry leaders to communicate the latest scientific developments, products and technology to grass-roots farmers,” says Coombes. “I’d like to see agricultural leaders collaborating more, and communicating better in regards to science and technology, and making that a part of the ‘story of dairying’.”
“We need to focus on providing tools, research and solutions to assist profitable and sustainable farming.”
Coombes says many farmers are already embracing science and technology – and he would like to see that continue. Mobile-based apps help farmers better manage their farms, says Coombes. “We are so busy, so any apps or agri-tech products that can help farmers save time have got to be a good thing. I’d love to see more farmers embracing systems that make life easier.”
Coombes has put himself forward as a candidate for the DairyNZ Board of Directors, which is open for voting from September 25. It is open to levy-paying dairy farmers across the country, and the board members will be announced at the DairyNZ AGM on October 25.
“I represent the next generation of farmers – I know the challenges we face, and I believe we are in a position to grow, innovate and continue to do things better,” says Coombes.
Coombes began his farming career share milking 130 cows, bought his first farm at 35, and has built up his multi-farm business from there. He has extensive governance experience, and is director on several boards. He is interested in finding solutions to challenging problems, and enjoys working with others to do that.