Good farming practices over the winter can help to maintain and improve water quality.
Winter poses particular risks to water quality as any exposed soils can become saturated and prone to muddying from stock, and can then be carried away during rain and storms into waterways. As well as carrying soil that can clog waterways and cause issues for ecosystems, this runoff can also contain phosphorus, nitrogen and E.coli that are a risk to downstream water quality and human and ecosystem health.
Watch NOSLaM's video series on wintering, including one from ORC.
Some tips from Beef+Lamb NZ for good practice this winter:
1. Exclude stock from waterways. Create an ungrazed buffer zone between the stock and the waterway. About 3-5 metres* is a good starting point, but this should increase with slope and soil instability. (*check your local regulations)
2. Leave an ungrazed and uncultivated buffer zone around Critical Source Areas. Critical Source Areas are parts of the paddock that can channel overland flow directly to waterways (e.g. gullies, swales, very wet areas, spring heads, waterway crossings, stock camps and vehicle access routes). Read the Critical Source Areas factsheet here.
3. Graze paddocks strategically. On a sloping paddock, fence across the slope and start grazing at the top of the slope. That way, the standing crop acts as a filter. Or, if there is a waterway in the paddock, start grazing at the far end of the paddock.
4. Make breaks “long and narrow”. The crop will be utilised more efficiently by stock. (note: deer might need alternative grazing management)
5. Back fence. Regularly back fence stock off grazed breaks to help minimise pugging damage and to reduce runoff risk. (note: deer might need alternative grazing management)
6. Place portable troughs and supplementary feed in a dry part of the paddock well away from any waterways or Critical Source Areas.
7. Look after your stock. Provide adequate feed, shelter, lying areas and clean fresh drinking water. Doing this will limit stock movement and help reduce damage to crop and soil.
8. Plant a catch crop. Where soil conditions and farm management allow, consider planting a fast-growing crop in spring such as greenfeed oats. It can make a substantial difference to reducing nitrogen losses.
9. Plan early. When choosing paddocks for next year’s winter feed crop, think about how you can improve your management of Critical Source Areas and waterways.
There's great work being done to promote best practice over the winter by other groups and organisations from around the region and the country. Here are some useful links: