By Waikato farming and science writer Sue Edmonds
In all the writing I’ve read lately on cleaning up our freshwater, a recurring theme seems to be the need for pretty well all farmers to have a farm plan.
Nothing seemed to be definite about what these would consist of, apart from those in the Waikato Region probably having to be ‘signed off’ by a certified consultant. At a recent dinner held by B+LNZ in Hamilton, some people were talking about the many thousands this would be costing – but these fears were somewhat put to rest by an announcement that individual farmers would be able to do much of the work themselves, and would only need to have it checked and ticked off by someone who would need to be paid.
The basis of the sheep and beef farmer plans for Waikato is the Land and Environment Plan system B+LNZ has devised, and farmers are being encouraged to attend the Level 1 workshops being held around the region at present, to find out how to use the planning materials.
These voluntary LEPs have been being used around the country by B+LNZ for several years now, and are now being adjusted to help farmers meet whatever specific requirements are needed in different regions.
As a Waikato farming writer, and one involved in some of the regional council’s Collaborative Stakeholder Group planning sessions, I was invited to attend one of these on Charlie Lea’s sheep and beef farm at Karapiro, and found it a fascinating experience.
Getting familiar with LEPs
A group of fifteen or so of us spent the morning going through the paperwork, which is well designed and full of useful hints on what to think about. They also have a page for each topic where you can fill in your own ideas on what might need looking at, and possibly fixing at some point, on your own farm.
The basis of the system is that if you’ve written it down, and filled in the columns for likely costs and some progress and completion dates, whatever needs doing will probably get done! (And if a regional audit system is introduced, no doubt it will!)
The first part of the booklet deals with creating a detailed map of the farm, complete with all its natural and added features, plus areas where problems such as erosion, fencing streams, gorse control, bush and scrub areas, wetlands and forestry blocks all get clearly filled in. It even advises where aerial photos can be acquired from.
Having worked out what is actually there, we then considered a process of risk assessment on what problems would need tackling first, and what could wait a bit without a disaster. This led to a discussion on what different risks would look like, and some thinking about what reparation system would work best for each, including costs and dates for each step.
We then worked our way through some defined topics, including water quality affected by different pollutants – phosphorus, nitrogen and faecal bacteria – plus a section on erosion and sediment, and another on biodiversity. Each of these had a series of yes/no questions which we related to our farms, and wrote down some ideas arising out of the questions.
There is also a list of ‘other issues’, which include potential flooding, wetlands, offal pits and farm dumps, sheep dip sites, and protecting any good bits of native bush that might be still around.
Seeing an LEP in action
Later we drove around parts of the farm and admired the wonderful new 8-wire fencing and native plantings round all the watery places, and Charlie Lea talked about what having these fences had done for his farming practice. With lambing and calving going on, there was a lot of talk about drownings in swamps, and Charlie was keen to tell us that those were a thing of the past. The extra fences had also allowed him to use some paddocks differently and more effectively through these periods.
In such rolling country, the changes in pasture usage had not only meant more managed feed growth, but more time to do other things too – including off-farm.
At present there are quite generous grants available (in Waikato these include regional council and river authority) to help pay for fencing and planting, and Charlie had made full use of these to do as much as he could while the funds were still available.
Some advice from Bill Garland
During our session I talked about what another Waikato farmer, Bill Garland, had found when he had done his own farm plan. His farm is on the slopes of Maungatautari. He’s even made a YouTube clip about the benefits he had gained.
Get your plan done sooner rather than later
From my brief experience, I would heartily recommend that sheep and beef farmers get cracking – both on applying for grants and getting themselves to these workshops. Once regional councils (particularly Waikato) approve the regional plan changes that are being recommended, farmers will be working to deadlines. This may sound a long way off now, but for the first Waikato category requirements 2019 will come racing up, and some of the projects may well take until 2023 or so to get done.
It will require a lot of thinking, pricing, planning and action, but if sheep and beef farmers around the country want their farm plans approved without a lot of reworking, they need to put their minds to it soon!