Healthier waterways, better productivity and farmer wellbeing are front and centre in a new project involving more than 1000 Southland farmers and growers.
Minister of Agriculture Damien O'Connor today announced that the Thriving Southland Change and Innovation Project was the first region-wide extension programme supported by the $229 million Sustainable Land Use Package announced in Budget 2019.
• Government launches Māori Agribusiness Extension programme
• $1.5m+ for research to help farmers to meet climate challenges
• Damien O'Connor: Forestry is no threat to farming
• Help may be on the way for farmers struggling with Farm Environment Plans/a>
O'Connor said the project will receive $6-9 million to help Southland farmers and growers make the changes required to lift their environmental sustainability and unlock more value for their hard work.
"Climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing agriculture and one of the biggest long-term challenges for New Zealand" said O'Connor.
"Our farmers and growers are committed to making genuine change. Many are already doing it, but they need practical information about what steps to take, clear direction about what to aim for and support to take action".
"In Budget 2019 the Coalition Government demonstrated our commitment to working alongside farmers to meet these challenges head on".
An important part of this was extension said O'Connor.
"Pulling together clusters of farmers and growers to share information, insights and advice with like-minded people who understand local issues".
Thriving Southland chairman Ewen Mathieson said the project would support vibrant communities by building on the good work of the combined catchment groups.
"Southland communities have proven to be innovative, and as we begin to understand what our direction needs to be, we will see our farming communities implement change in a positive way" said Mathieson.
O'Connor said overseas consumers increasingly wanted greater assurances that the food and fibre they bought was produced in a sustainable way.
"New Zealand's future wellbeing, including the wellbeing of our rural communities, depends on an economy that is both environmentally sustainable and generates high value for its people".
Projects like Thriving Southland would provide a big step forward towards this future said O'Connor.
"This is an ambitious initiative with a really broad reach. It's expected to cover at least 21 local catchment groups and spans the sheep and beef, deer, arable, horticulture and dairy sectors. They're thinking big and I really commend their attitude and the way they're embracing change".
Thriving Southland will take place over five years and will interact with communities from Te Anau and Tuatapere in the West, to Gore and Waikawa in the South East, incorporating the Waiau, Aparima, Oreti and Mataura Rivers along with many smaller river catchments.
Four further extension projects are planned in Kaipara, King Country, Hurunui and Ellesmere.