With society becoming more conscious of environmental impacts, we are required to change how we run our businesses. How that change happens influences the success of the outcomes and whether collateral damage is inflicted along the way.

Farmers have always tried to manage their impacts inside the farm gate: "Look after the land and it looks after you". We now must focus on the impacts we have in the wider environment, whether that is water quality, climate or providing a habitat for our treasured native fauna.

Once people embrace the culture of change, progress can be rapid. Reducing the use of plastic bags is a topical example where progress was being made by people making choices; did we need the inflexibility of regulation?

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My challenge to fellow farmers is to put our energy and innovative minds towards achieving the targeted outcomes within our own farms, rather than resisting the requirement to change.

My plea to authorities and the community is to decide what outcomes are important and achievable, then give encouragement and opportunity for groups of farmers and towns to find the best solutions. We will fall short if we are hit with narrow, one-size-fits-all regulatory regimes.

A success story that should be embraced and replicated is Horizons' Sustainable Land Use Initiative (SLUI). Over 10 years it has worked with more than 700 farmers, covering more than 500,000ha, identifying the most vulnerable and ecologically valuable areas on farms. It then partners with farmers to fence and preserve areas of native bush, wetlands and waterways and retire land from grazing or plant poplars to prevent erosion.

Mike Cranstone
Mike Cranstone

On our farm, we plant hundreds of poplar poles on hillsides annually. Last year, we retired a 50ha paddock, aptly named "the canyon". The result is a corridor of biodiversity through the middle of our pasture. We will also reduce sediment runoff, our river catchment's major water quality issue, and we are growing more trees to help offset our country's greenhouse gas emissions.

Critically, we have not reduced our farm's productivity or prosperity, our agriculture industries have not lost any scale, the same Whanganui businesses service our farm, and the same number of kids go to our local school.

With the right approach and an understanding that results will not all fit in square boxes by a certain deadline, the one billion trees vision could produce great environmental outcomes specific to each region.

All of this could be achieved without destroying the glue that holds our provinces together.

Mike Cranstone is a hill-country sheep and beef farmer in the Whangaehu River Valley. He is Whanganui Federated Farmers president.