Two of Federated Farmers' provincial presidents organised a two-day workshop in Taumarunui over Easter to discuss the unique environmental challenges North Island hill country farmers face.
Gisborne-Wairoa's Hamish Cave and I decided to hold the workshop after Federated Farmers national council
discussed the problems sheep and beef farmers face around erosion and stock access to waterways, last November.
In low-land intensive farming there has been a lot of emphasis on fencing off and management around waterways. On many hill country situations, however, the practicalities of steep gullies, flash floods damaging fences and other farm infrastructure, and invasive noxious weeds means it is impractical to fence all waterways even before we think of supplying alternative sources for stock drinking water.
The workshop was a chance to get representatives from all of the North Island provinces together on a hill country farm to problem solve and come up solutions to these unique challenges. Representatives from 11 of the 14
provinces were able to attend. The workshop consisted of an on-farm visit to a hill country farm 20 minutes outside of Taumarunui in Otunui, followed by a round table discussion in a local motel which went well into the night and started again with a working breakfast.
The 18 people that attended the workshop, including Federated Farmers board members Ian Mackenzie, Anders Crofoot, national president Bruce Wills and policy advisors Elizabeth McGruddy and Paul Le Miere, all took something valuable away.
We looked at the different ways to keep stock out of waterways. On a lot of Ruapehu hill country farms, bridges,
culverts and even concrete posts placed in the water course create a central crossing point for stock. When looking at a steep but highly productive hill country farm with multiple waterways, this is a much more cost-effective
We also considered possible solutions to on-farm erosion. It is clear there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. While riparian planting may work on one farm, spot planting of poplars on another farm may be a more viable option.
Mr Mackenzie pointed out that instead of trying to tackle the environmental issues on the entire farm, farmers should focus on the section which is being intensively farmed. If you have a 1000-hectare farm for example, with 20-ha farmed intensively, particularly over winter when the most damage can occur, then focus primarily on that section.
The only steps you would take for the remaining 980 hectares would be to spot plant trees to stabilise the soil
and for stock shade. Taumarunui was selected for the workshops because of the town's logistics. Being central it was easily accessible to most of the North Island provinces. The workshop was also relatively inexpensive, with the Federation's event co-ordinator Hannah Williamson organising the details and Hamish and myself organising
the day's programmes and meals.
There is now talk of holding a similar workshop in the South Island and the workshop's outcome and steps to be taken next will be raised at Federated Farmers' National Conference later this month. The main lesson to take from this event was that anything is possible when the logistics are sorted and a date suiting everyone can be found.
Given how many people were prepared to give up some of their Easter shows the importance of this issue and that Federated Farmers is prepared to work together to find solutions.