With Christmas nearly upon us it's good to stop and reflect on the year gone, but its also a great time to look to the future and share some ideas with your family. I hope this article gives you a topic for discussion.

The pressures and challenges coming at farmers through environmental compliance and the market place are hugely daunting for many farmers, but where there is a challenge there's always an opportunity and farmers, the opportunities ahead for hill country farming are seriously good!

In recent years Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) has channelled resources into building a strong environmental team across New Zealand, recognising that we can't make the claim that we are 'clean and green' any more. Now we need to underpin that claim with integrity and honesty to demonstrate to our Regional Councils, the market place and to the NZ public, that we are walking the talk.

How do farmers unlock that opportunity?

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Over the last few years B+LNZ has been running Farm Environmental planning workshops across NZ and this is where leading farmers have realised that through the adoption of a Farm Environmental Plan (FEP), they can very quickly make meaningful improvement to water quality and biodiversity but also by understanding their land management units, redesign their farms to optimise land use increasing profitability, not only by improving farm systems but also through production trees, carbon, manuka honey and perhaps tourism.

Leading farmers also see this as significant opportunity for succession planning with the younger family members grasping these opportunities with both hands, taking the family farm to the next stage of development. This leads into a recent article written by B+LNZ.

B+LNZ has welcomed the Government's announcement of the $238 million One Billion Trees Fund that will complement the work already being done on sheep and beef farms.

B+LNZ's Chief Executive Sam McIvor said the structure of the funding will work well for farmers by building on the efficiency gains they've made over the past 30 years, all while helping create and preserve 1.4 million hectares of native forest on sheep and beef farms.

"Done in the right way, by focusing on having the right trees in the right place for the right purpose, the One Billion Trees Fund represents a huge opportunity for sheep and beef farmers and complements many of the activities we're focused on," said McIvor.

"Over the past three decades the sheep and beef sector has made significant gains in productivity, for instance doubling the value of our exports while halving the number of our ewe flock and still exporting the same quantity of sheepmeat.

"At a time when consumers are looking more in depth at the story behind their food and want to know that it's been ethically produced and those who produce it are doing so sustainably, it really is the time for our sheep and beef farmers to shine.

"Since 1990, sheep and beef farmers have reduced their greenhouse gas emissions from livestock by 30 per cent, there's 1.4 million hectares of native forest on sheep and beef farms, we have a largely pasture-based, free-range farming system that's the envy of the world, and the One Billion Trees Fund gives us the opportunity to continue to enhance that image."

With the new funding being targeted to support both smaller planting activities and larger projects, the One Billion Tree Fund will enable farmers to undertake a range of activities that will benefit farmers and New Zealanders.

"As part of our Environment Strategy, we've committed to being net carbon neutral by 2050, improving the quality of freshwater so New Zealanders can swim and gather food in the water surrounding our farms, and for each of our farmers to have an tailored and active farm environment plan by the end of 2021, so the funding and approach will play an important part in helping our farmers achieve these ambitious goals." McIvor said.

McIvor said the funding works well with the diverse range of activities that already take place on sheep and beef farms.

"Our farms are a mosaic of farming activities, often with cropping, beef cattle, sheep, manuka, horticulture and forestry all taking place alongside significant tracks of regenerating native bush. Our vision is that within a farm, our farmers match land use with the land's capability, and this is reflected by the diverse range of activities that take place on farm."

To assist farmers make the most of the Fund, B+LNZ will be providing extension activities to help them identify opportunities and how to apply for funding.

Rick Burke
Mid-Northern Farmer Council Beef & Lamb NZ