Farm environment plan made easy, not rocket science
New Zealand prides itself on being "clean and green" and this is the foundation on which New Zealand's successful farming businesses have been built, claims Beef + Lamb New Zealand [B+LNZ].
"What's good for the environment is also good for farmers," B+LNZ said and for this reason, the organisation has been running a series of farm environment plan [FEP] workshops throughout Canterbury.
Ten farmers and one journalist met at Woodbury Hall on March 8 to be talked through the process of compiling a basic FEP by farm environment consultant and FEP workshop facilitator James Hoban.
Hoban said the B+LNZ FEP template was developed to help farmers in Hawke's Bay and Canterbury meet the specific regulatory needs of their local regional councils.
He asked the group to identify land management units (LMU) on the farm maps they'd been asked to bring along. LMUs are areas of land that can be farmed or managed in a similar way because of underlying physical similarities.
The participants set about sketching these onto the maps using coloured felt pen. Most ended up with about seven or eight LMUs, some of which included forestry blocks, gullies, north facing tussock hill country and coastal strips.
They were then asked to record the LMUs in the FEP workshop handbook, and identify the strengths and weaknesses of each. The handbook gave plenty of examples so no one was at a loss as to what to do.
Forestry blocks keep gorse down and limit erosion but harbour pests like possums and deer. North facing tussock hills provides shelter from the southerly and get plenty of warmth and sun, but are prone to drought. Coastal strips hold moisture from south-easterly fogs, but are erosion prone and exposed to the weather. Gullies provide natural shelter, high biodiversity and are a buffer zone for the waterways. But they are also erosion and pest prone.
The audience was then asked to list a summary of current practice under a number of objectives and how these could be demonstrated. This had a few people scratching their heads, but again the handbook came to the rescue.
For example, objective one was "nutrient management" and people were asked to list practices that helped achieve this, and how they could be demonstrated. For example, gullies and coastal strips can be planted out and fenced. Riparian buffer zones can be planted around waterways.
Objective two was "soil management." Pasture prone to drought should not be over grazed; cultivation should be along the contours to exclude erosion and P-fertiliser should not be applied directly into waterways, were all positive practices the group came up with.
Finally, they were asked to identify environmental issues or risks on their properties, how they would manage these in the short term, and whose responsibility these would be. An example involved a bog or spring in an area of grazing, to be fenced off by the manager of the property. Or the retirement of steep north facing drought prone slopes of a gorge from grazing by the farm owner.
After four hours the workshop ended. There was a genuine sense among the farmers that it had been well run, and that they had come away with something tangible and worthwhile.
"It wasn't rocket science after all," said one.
"Made a lot of sense," said another.
This environment plan complies with the regulations of your local regional council, were Hoban's parting words.
"But you will need to update it yearly."
"Canterbury is facing unique challenges with land use and water quality," said management adviser for Environment Canterbury Helen Fisk, who was along to give a brief update of the Land and Water Regional Plan (LWRP).
"The LWRP addresses these, with FEP's as its greatest potential tool for implementing the rules and achieving the objectives set by the plan," she said.
"A time will come when all farmers will be expected to have an FEP."