Grassroots sustainability is being promoted by a new farmer-led group in Canterbury, which aims to collaborate with industry and local authorities to address environmental concerns.
The Waimakariri Next Generation Farmers Trust (the Trust) was established in response to new plan changes and rules affecting farmers in the district.
It aims to help convey information between local and regional councils, industry organisations, farmers and the wider community.
The Trust is the first farmer-led group in the Waimakariri district.
Its seven trustees, aged between 28 and 35, are either farm owners or managers.
It is hoped the membership base will eventually represent all 350 farms throughout the Waimakariri.
A key focus is communicating directly with Waimakariri farmers to raise awareness of environmental policy changes, and ensuring they have support to implement good farm management practices.
It is also hoped a single, united voice will give the Trust credence to be viewed as a key stakeholder working in partnership with local authorities, regional councils and industry groups in addressing environmental concerns.
Chairperson Scott Evans, a dairy farmer in Oxford, says the group was formed to unite the rural community in their goal of protecting the environment for future generations.
"A key objective of the Trust is to work alongside industry and local authorities in the development of environmental policy," said Evans.
"Farmers have a lot of local knowledge and we want to ensure this grassroots perspective is not overlooked. We need practical, achievable changes that positively impact the environment and incorporate farmer-driven solutions.
"At the end of the day we all have the same aim, and that is to ensure the environment is protected now and into the future."
A key impetus for the formation of the Trust was the Waimakariri Zone Committee's Draft Zone Implementation Programme Addendum (ZIPA), released by Environment Canterbury in December 2018.
The ZIPA features a set of recommendations to address water quality and management issues, with specific priority areas.
According to the ZIPA, some dairy farms would need to reduce their nitrate levels by a further 15 percent beyond Good Management Practice (GMP) come 2030, while all other consented land users would need to make a further 5 per cent reduction.
It also recommended that all farmers in the zone reach Baseline GMP by 2020.
The document acknowledged that it would be "very challenging for farmers to meet the new limits".
"Some farmers may feel that the new limits are unachievable, while other members of our community may feel we are not going far enough or fast enough," it states.
The ZIPA is not achievable for many farmers, said Evans.
"We have already taken significant steps forward in terms of reducing nitrates and investing in new technology to enable more efficient irrigation. It's important that we remain profitable to ensure we can continue with these initiatives and keep heading in the right direction."
The ZIPA is now going through the Resource Management Act process. Feedback on the draft ZIPA has now closed. The ZIPA will be used as the basis for a plan change to the Land and Water Regional Plan which is scheduled to be notified in mid-2019 for submissions.
Many farmers are already "going above and beyond" in terms of protecting their natural environment, said Evans.
"Farmers are some of our best environmentalists. Riparian management, Farm Environment Plans, stock exclusion, irrigation management, wetland restoration and new technologies are just some of the investments we are making to ensure the land remains viable for the benefit of the wider community."
Environmental spend by dairy farmers in the Canterbury/Marlborough region was $170,000 per farm in the five years between 2010 and 2015, according to a DairyNZ and Federated Farmers survey – nearly double the national average of $90,000.
"It is part of our social licence and responsibility as caretakers of the land to ensure we stand up and take ownership for the environmental issues we are all facing," said Evans.
The Trust is holding a farmers meeting in Swannanoa this week, which will discuss environmental challenges to farming in the Waimakariri district – both now and on the horizon.
Industry experts will explain policy changes, and outline on-farm initiatives for reducing environmental risk.