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Building a sustainable farming future

Fonterra Communications. 27 November 2023 12:21 AM

Protecting their natural assets, one investment at a time

Cheryl McCartie and Theo van Brecht
 Click the image above to view the video

Tasmanian dairy farmers Cheryl McCartie and Theo van Brecht are committed to sustainable practices that will benefit the environment and their farmland for generations to come.

Cheryl and Theo call Ringarooma home, a breathtaking natural setting in the state’s northeast. With a river running through the property, their farm is also home to many natural ecosystems abundant with native species and wildlife.  

They believe it’s their responsibility to protect these natural assets and are making small, incremental investments in the way they farm to protect the environment around them. 

Cheryl McCartie and Theo van Brecht

Cheryl McCartie and Theo van Brecht on farm in Ringarooma, northeast Tasmania.

“We live in a great environment here. We’ve got good rainfall, there’s plenty of bush and waterways,” Cheryl said.

“When we first moved here, I started to look around and think, what are we going to do to protect some of these natural assets?”

Hailing from New Zealand, the couple moved to Tasmania with a dream to purchase their own farm.

“We thought, we can't afford to buy land in New Zealand. We looked around the rest of the world and we saw Tassie, and we thought this is the place to go," Theo said. 

After settling in Tasmania, Cheryl and Theo started out share farming, and went on to purchase their Ringarooma farm 25 years ago.

Starting on the sustainability journey

They began their sustainability journey when they saw the potential impact to the natural ecosystems on their farm.

On farm in Ringarooma

Fonterra's Alison Hall and Sam Flight with Theo van Brecht and grandson, Max.

"We have a big river running down through the back of our place, so we need to make sure there's no leaching or anything else going into our pristine rivers," Theo said.

With a successful grant application, they made their first investment of $5,000 towards improving their effluent system.

"The work on the effluent system started us on a journey of actually seeing the benefit of small investments in environmental work on the farm," Cheryl said.

"Once we started on that journey, it opened our eyes to what else we could do," she added.

Identifying strengths through a Farm Environment Plan

Another step Cheryl and Theo took was to complete a Farm Environment Plan.

With support from Fonterra’s Farm Source team in northern Tasmania, they worked through a tailored plan looking at their strengths and identifying focus areas to improve performance and create greater efficiencies. 

“It was really easy to step into the Farm Environment Plan because we could demonstrate the practicalities of some of the things that we’d done, and how easy it was,” Cheryl said. 

“We could also see how it was paying off from a profit point of view in our business,” she added. 

Fonterra introduced Farm Environment Plans last year to support farmers on its sustainability journey, and now more than one third of its suppliers have completed one. 

Plans recognise good on-farm practices and set a course of action towards a more efficient way of farming, while addressing growing expectations from customers and consumers for sustainable food. 

“Customers are expecting it now and I think it's imperative the dairy industry tells our story,” Cheryl said. 

“Farm Environment Plans are a great way to do that, not only for us to stand up and be proud of what we've already done, but to help us channel what we need to do next," she added.

Fonterra's Farm Source Area Manager Alison Hall helped deliver Cheryl and Theo’s Farm Environment Plan, which validated the great processes they already had in place on farm. 

Alison Hall and Theo van Brecht

Fonterra Area Manager Alison Hall with Theo van Brecht.

“In Cheryl and Theo’s case, the outcome of their Farm Environment Plan confirmed they’re on the right track," Alison said.

"They’re aligned with industry standards and best-practice, and the investments they’ve made are the right ones.

“The best part is knowing the way they farm is having a positive impact on the environment, and any further actions they take will continue to improve their business,” she added.

Preparing for the future environmental work

Cheryl believes most farmers are already doing a lot of environmental work but need to be aware of what’s ahead of them and what else they can do.

“If anyone is considering a Farm Environment Plan, it isn’t an onerous process at all because a lot of us are already doing it, almost unconsciously,” she said.

“It’s just a matter of sitting down and working through what you’ve already done and being aware of other things that could come up in the future.”

From their slice of land in Tasmania’s northeast, Cheryl and Theo’s sustainability journey demonstrates you don’t need to make big changes to have an impact.

Their passion to look after the planet is driven by their grandchildren and ensuring they can grow up in a world where the environment is nurtured, healthy and thriving.

“The other day, my grandson and I went down to the river and within minutes, we caught a trout. That’s what I’d like for all young kids to do. Go down to the river, catch fish and eat it – you know it’s safe. It’s good,” Theo said. 

Fonterra's Sam Flight, Cheryl McCartie, Shaelyn Rockcliff, Max Rockcliff, Fonterra's Alison Hall, and Theo van Brecht.
Fonterra's Sam Flight, Cheryl McCartie, Shaelyn Rockcliff, Max Rockcliff, Fonterra's Alison Hall, and Theo van Brecht.