A new survey of farmers in the Aparima River catchment, Southland, shows farms achieve better environmental results when they have Farm Environment Plans.
Six hundred dairy, sheep and beef farmers work together in the Aparima Community Environment Project, which aimed to improve the health of freshwater and reduce environmental footprint.
A recent survey of 151 Aparima catchment farmers showed 80 per cent had Farm Environment Plans – an increase of 23 per cent on last year.
The survey also showed that farmers with environment plans were more likely to implement a range of good farming practices.
"These survey results show how serious farmers are about taking care of the environment," Otautau dairy farmer (mid-Aparima River), Edwin Mabonga said.
Of the farmers surveyed, 95 per cent had excluded stock from waterways – up 4 per cent on last year.
Eighty-seven per cent used nitrogen fertiliser strategically – up 4 per cent. Strategic nitrogen use meant using fertiliser only as needed to maximise pasture uptake, and only on certain parts of the farm.
"Farm Environment Plans identify environmental risks and management options on the farm, and contribute to improving water quality and other environmental benefits," said Mabonga.
"They are living, breathing documents that help farmers achieve better environmental outcomes."
Plans must include actions to reduce farm sediment and nutrient loss, outline how wintering rules will be implemented, and where to riparian plant and fence. The plans are reviewed annually.
Thousands of farms already had a comprehensive Farm Environment Plan and sector groups were continuing to develop them as an effective way to accelerate further improvements.
Farmers in the Aparima Community Environment Project were making significant changes which illustrates the type of innovation and commitment needed to surpass good management practices and set farmers in good stead for future.
Mabonga said his Farm Environment Plan ensured all his team knew and understood the way the environment was looked after on the farm.
"For us a big benefit is to have everyone on the farm thinking environmentally."
Mabonga and his wife Fungai are equity partners and have been carrying out farm riparian planting for 10 years. All staff were involved in tree planting, which gave them a sense of ownership in the environmental work, he said.
Aparima River sheep farmer Leon Black said it was great to see environmental practices were continually improving as a result of targeted farm plans.
"Caring for the environment is a core plank of a farming business," said Black.
"A Farm Environment Plan helps ensure good farm management practices, and to identify and manage any potential issues."
Black and his wife Wendy carried out on their 370ha farm included planting around 300 trees a year and providing shelter and shade for stock. The farm had been in the family for almost 100 years.
About the Aparima Community Environment Project
• This large-scale project began in 2018 and involves 600 farmers in the Aparima, Pourakino, Waimatuku and coastal Longwood catchments.
• Of the 600 farmers – 216 are dairy farmers and 384 are sheep and beef farmers.
• The project involves farmers, land managers, extension experts and scientists working together to identify, implement and track environmental actions.
• Through modelling and monitoring, the actions of every Farm Environment Plan will be linked to demonstrated changes in water quality outcomes.
Highlights of farmer survey
• 95 per cent have excluded stock from waterways – up 4 per cent on last year.
• 87 per cent use nitrogen fertiliser strategically – up 4 per cent on last year
• 80 per cent recycle chemical containers – up 6 per cent.
• 78 per cent leave ungrazed buffers around critical source areas – up 7 per cent on last year (this involves protecting low-lying parts of farms, such as gullies and swales where runoff accumulates).
• 77 per cent use Spreadmark accredited equipment/contractors – up 3 per cent.
• 74 per cent do paddock scale soil testing – up 6 per cent.
The Aparima Community Environment Project is led by farmers and supported by DairyNZ, Beef + Lamb New Zealand, Environment Southland and Fonterra.