Multiple-sector farmers have to work with different environmental guidelines on emission. It’s time for some common approaches. Sheryl Haitana reports.

 It would be better if primary industries stopped working in silos and came together to tackle environmental challenges in the future, and that includes a farm environment plan to fit all, Alison Dewes says.

There is a lack of consistency across primary sectors when it comes to measuring and

modelling environmental outcomes and multi enterprise farmers are left without clear guidelines.

“Our catchment farmers are all asking to deal with it at a one-stop shop, and nobody has come up with that as yet.”

Beef + Lamb uses natural capital as a baseline and still encourages the use of Overseer for nitrogen loss metrics, Fonterra uses a purchased Nitrogen Surplus (which does not relate to natural capital risks) and the horticulture industry doesn’t work in Overseer and is still catching up.

“It’s difficult for farmers with orchards, dairy farms, and runoffs – which is pretty common in the BOP.”

Land owners, particularly with multiple land uses on the same block, must get confused and

frustrated, she says.

They will end up with four or five separate industry plans and disparate calculations to calculate nutrient and emission losses.

At local and central government there is inconsistency when it comes to dealing with

different regions and catchments.

“Councils under the RMA have to protect life-supporting capacity of natural resources for

future generations, but across NZ, we’ve had 30 years of catchment degradation.”

At government level, they are coming out with calculators for emissions that don’t even talk

to each other, she says. This confuses farmers and advisors alike.

The result of inconsistency is there are pockets of farmers across NZ who have not been

trained to farm under environmental limitations, and will need extra help when government

regulations are applied, she says.

“There is a real spread around the country for farmers who are fit for providing verifiable data.”

Alison hopes a new pan-sector environment plan being developed in the Bay of Plenty will be able to be taken nationwide, and that it will be easy for all landowners to use to get equal and fair outcomes.

It will also be key when it comes to emissions schemes as well as accounting for nitrogen loads and losses, Alison believes.

If a farm includes dairy, sheep and beef and trees, which operation gets to offset GreenHouse Gases using the plantation areas, riparian zones and trees?

“Will there be double dipping?“

Wai Kōkopu was formed last year and sought funding to work with landowners, iwi industry and key community parties to restore the ecological health of a catchment in the Bay of

Plenty. The catchment’s three main rivers and streams – Kaikōkopu, Whārere and

Pōngakawa – flow into the Little Waihī estuary, which has been identified as one of the

worst five estuaries in New Zealand.

The 35,000-hectare catchment is made up of 38% dairy, 5.4% kiwifruit, 12% forestry, 18% exotic forestry. Early estimates appear the contribution from dairy is around 60% of the nitrogen load. 

The E Coli levels in the estuary are 450% above what is considered safe for food collection. E Coli contaminants from the catchment need to reduce by 55%, nitrogen by 66% and

phosphorus by 30%, Wai Kōkopu project manager Alison says.

Thanks to co-funding from Bay Trust and TECT ($2.2 million), the catchment group is now putting in flux meters for 2022 under orchards to also help validate losses from the horticultural component on the pumice soils.

The Ministry for Primary Industries has funded $1.5m to the Wai Kōkopu programme

to work with 15 farmers in the catchment to promote land environment planning and

management, including writing a Digital Pan Sector Farm Environment Plan which

encompasses all land use activity.

The Wai Kōkopu Team recently held an industry stakeholders meeting to work together on

the pan sector farm environment plans.

Representatives from Fonterra, Zespri, Avocado NZ, Ballance, Ravensdown, Bay of Plenty

Regional Council, and other key companies were present at the meeting. The goal is to sign

a memorandum of understanding to work together towards a pan-sector plan, to help meet the needs of farmers and streamline and significantly lower compliance costs – for multi-entreprise farms in the catchment.

Alison hopes ready-to-use, pan-sector FEPs could become a model that is used across NZ once the team has local biophysical data that allows paddock scale mapping.

The FEPs will include economical and natural capital risk assessments and farm system modelling of different farming and land use scenarios to reduce the environmental footprint.

Through working alongside farmers to write these plans, Alison hopes they can showcase to

farmers how they can find the ‘sweet spot’, where they can reduce their environmental

footprint, while maintaining profitability.

“Often farmers end up with a drop in productivity when they go too far chasing a high payout,

because their costs go up, their environmental footprint goes up, it puts more stress on them

and staff.

“The most profitable and resilient farmers stay in the ‘sweet spot.”

Alison doesn’t get frustrated with the farmers who respond to high payouts by buying in more fertiliser and supplement, it’s the agencies at the top letting that happen because there is no consistency with regulation and expectations on farmers.

“Most farmers want to do the right thing. That is why our catchment group was formed.”

Wai Kōkopu also has a goal to map land use capability down to the paddock level across the

whole catchment, which will be useful in the FEPs.

That will make it immediately obvious which land should be going back into trees or retired to wetlands for example, that is too steep for >300kg animals on slopes in pastoral agriculture.

One of the biggest challenges is that farmers in the catchment have not been used to

providing data because they haven’t had any environmental regulation, she says.

“It’s different –  coming to a catchment that hasn’t been regulated. I have a small farm in Hamurana, I have changed land use. In the Rotorua Lakes District we have had 18 years of plan changes, so we have learnt to be fit for regulations.

“We are finding in our second year, farmers are already better at providing data and

understanding their numbers more. They are very responsive.”

A key strategy is to encourage large-scale native retirement of riparian corridors, wetlands

and steep erosion-prone land to mitigate sediment, phosphorus and E.coli. runoff into the

receiving waterways.

BayTrust’s grant will help Wai Kōkopu get the community actively involved in planting and

restoration efforts including weed and pest control. The plan is to develop a local nursery to

supply the plants to farmers in the catchment and plant over 200,000 plants a year.

Wai Kōkopu has employed their own microbiologist to do pathogen testing of waterways across the catchment for the balance of the study. The group has also been co-funded by Bay of Plenty Regional Council with a nitrate tester for shallow springs and drinking water.

“We are pretty keen to show what is and what isn’t working.”