The ground has been broken at the Southern Dairy Hub’s Makarewa site and it has been a long time coming for the Southern Dairy Development Trust.
The Southern Dairy Development Trust is a charitable trust which was borne out of an initiative in 2007 to establish an entity that could provide Southland with a dedicated research or demonstration farm focused on dairying.
It began its vision through the Southland Demonstration Farm Limited, which leased and operated an 800-cow dairy farm near Wallacetown. Now, the conversion of the Southern Dairy Hub site has begun.
Edendale farmer Matthew Richards is the chairman of the trust, and has been passionate about creating a research and demonstration facility for southern dairy farmers since moving from Taranaki.
After moving to Southland, he could not understand why there was no dedicated training and research facility for dairy farmers, instead, he had to send his young staff to a sheep farm in Winton.
Nine years ago the trust developed the demonstration farm with no equity to try and attract some DairyNZ levy money back into Southland, Richards said.
Then the idea for the Southern Dairy Hub began to come to fruition – more than 500 farmers from Southland and Otago donated $2000 or more to the project, as the milk price was declining, he said.
More than $1.3 million was pledged and the project got the green light, with AgResearch and DairyNZ donating a cornerstone investment of $5m each.
Now the project is going ahead, Richards hopes the rest of the farmers who make up the 936 dairy farms in Otago Southland, will also pitch in to be a part of the hub.
The 349ha farm at Makarewa, 15km north of Invercargill, is being converted to the Southern Dairy Hub this season and will supply the Fonterra Co-operative Group. The hub is set to benefit dairy farmers from Dunedin south.
“We’re building it in Southland because that’s just the best place to have it. It’s closest to the majority of dairy farmers in the regions.”
As an established farm owner, Richards, like most of the trust members, wasn’t thinking about himself when working on the hub.
“It’s not really for us. By the time this thing gets going I won’t have many years left. This is really for the next generation of farmers to build more sustainable ways to farm.”
Otago/Southland was the only major dairy region without research capabilities, a fact Richards said needed to be rectified.
The southern region was different to other dairy producing regions and had its own problems, he said.
The inability to produce enough grass, a shortage of labour and environmental sustainability issues were all Southland/Otago-specific problems to tackle, he said.
“Hopefully in time the hub will be a leader in showing best practice and have above best practice.
By: Brittany Pickett