Not for sale

Farmers form environmental best practice group round Rangitikei River.

Rangitīkei farmer Roger Dalrymple is very much looking forward to the day farmers are acknowledged as environmental leaders.

"But my ambition is to lift our game higher than government expectations," he says. "It could take 15 or 20 years to get to our goal but by then the government might be able to say, 'Don't worry about farmers – they're ahead of the game'."

As compliance demands have grown, he's taken the consultative approach further by setting up a Rangitikei River catchment group. Four meetings were held last year attended by around 50 farmers from throughout the 500,000ha catchment area.

"We're taking responsibility for our own industry," the beef and lamb farmer says. "Community groups are a great way of setting our own goals and doing it. Small steps, such as the timing of when you graze a crop, make a huge difference."

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They're in the process of forming an incorporated society and finalising its constitution before it can apply for funding from a variety of sources. There will be a membership charge for farmers so they can access services it hopes to provide – including advice on best environmental practice and what they can do better on their properties, as well as water sampling and taking before and after photos.

Roger believes all farmers need to get smarter with farm plans by identifying their environmental resources and risks. That plan must be active and visible for everyone on the farm to see and follow.

"Councils and industry good bodies are full of people ready to help," he says. "We just have to ask."

Roger and brother Hew farm the 2600 hectare Waitatapia Station west of Bulls, which has been in their family for three generations over the last 100 years. Hew concentrates on the 600ha cropping operation, vegetable production on around 15ha and timber coming from just over 300ha of trees in 36 woodlots.

Roger handles the livestock side of the operation where 2500 beef cattle are grazed through the winter on electric-fenced, less productive areas and fed a range of crops grown on-farm such as oats. Lambs are fattened on irrigated land where a lot of development work has been carried out over the last 20 years, so pastures are now highly productive.

The Dalrymples were supreme winners of the Horizons Ballance Farm Environment Awards several years ago, with the judges complimenting them on their use of innovative practices to protect their sandy land from extreme vulnerability to soil erosion.

Direct drilling, which poses less environmental risk, is standard and moisture probes are used to improve irrigation efficiency from 15 centre pivots covering 750ha. Application of chicken manure from a nearby large scale poultry operator is carefully managed so nutrient run-off is minimised.

Roger has vivid memories of the implementation of Horizons Regional Council's One Plan which was kicked off over a decade ago: "There was lack of education on both sides."

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Meetings were organised to air farmer concerns about the future of land bordering the Rangitikei River. There were further worries about sediment as well as weed and algae growth increasing, as more hill country farms grew crops to feed to their stock in the winter.

At one meeting Roger put up the idea of working with the council: "There was just a mish-mash of rules and no one knew what they were meant to be doing. So I said, 'Let's work with them'."

There's been a huge amount of interest in the community catchment group so far and he hopes they will be used as an important resource. While 90 per cent of the catchment's primary producers are sheep and beef farmers, he can see a similar approach working in many other areas and over different land use types and sectors.

"If farmers are on board they will do the right thing themselves," he says. "It seems fairly sensible to me."