Chris Lewis

Some New Zealand farmers have had environmental management forced upon them. In other parts the rules about environmental compliance are still to be ratified. So, some farmers are grumpy about being pushed into something that is beyond their control while others are annoyed with the inconvenience of uncertainty.

It is fair to say the majority of farmers do want their operation to be sustainable; physically, financially and environmentally. But, in the absence of clear boundaries and expectations NZ farmers are reluctant to implement policy changes and capital investment. It is noted that Government has stepped in with the National Freshwater Policy which puts bottom lines in for regional councils to match or exceed. This will help but until these new rules are ratified, uncertainty remains.

In the face of this how do farmers take a “cup half full” approach to environmental planning? BakerAg believe if you put the environmental plan in as a component of Integrated Farm Planning you build a navigable pathway. In turn the Integrated Farm Plan (IFP) becomes an asset to the business because it brings the critical information and intellectual property into one place.

Farmers can choose to be proactive and get ahead of the game, or reactive to regulation.

The reactive approach says keep up business as usual until you hit an obstacle then find a way over it.

What does a proactive approach do? It says define where you want your business to be in a foreseeable point in time. Determine the gap between where you are and where you want to be, then build a plan that takes you there. That is what the integrated farm planning process does for a farmer.

An IFP links the critical elements of the farming business together, see the attached diagram.

The IFP process requires farmers to know what their environmental footprint is now, and what it will look like in five years. And where the business is now, and where it wants to be in 20-30 years.

This requires two things ASAP.

  • Complete an enviro walk and mapping of the property. This informs a checklist of physical areas which require attention (e.g: critical source areas or opportunities for planting vegetation or establishing wetlands).
  • Review your nutrient/GHG emissions (Overseer) report in detail. Get a firm understanding of the drivers for loss on your farm. Use skilled specialist advice. This is an important step.

Next step; project the Overseer model forward to replicate the five-year plan. Then consider your answer to these questions.

  • What physical work needs to be done to improve the farm’s environmental status?
  • Does the business have a compliance issue with its nutrient and GHG losses?
  • Does the environmental footprint improve relative to compliance and social expectations in five years, or deteriorate?

If the answers to the above questions indicate change is required, then how is this done while still achieving the business objectives? This is where the experts are prodded and poked to share in the development of real solutions.

To be effective somebody in the advisory team must know the regional and national legislation so the farmer’s business can correctly navigate compliance and consenting requirements. You will need to work through questions like:

  • Is your current farm environmental plan sufficient?
  • What are the current and future boundaries?
  • What is the expected impact on profitability?
  • Where is the Regional Council policy headed?
  • What are the opportunities for the farm business?
  • Is it appropriate to become part of a catchment group (a great learning space)?

With information and goals, farmers are positioned to move forward with the most critical part of the entire IFP process. Building a strategy that brings people, farm resources, policy, capital and technology together.

It is the bringing together of these items into a structure that will enable the farmer to document and direct the business through uncharted waters. While others struggle their business thrives.

Don’t lose the vision. Just ask how?

  • Chris Lewis is a BakerAg director and consultant.