For many low-emitting farmers, this would have limited their ability to grow winter feed crops or even plant lucerne.
Three years ago – when the impact of these regulations became apparent – over 300 angry farmers gathered in North Canterbury’s Waikari hall and vented their frustrations.
This was to be the first of many meetings held between various stakeholders, but what emerged was a new generation of farming leaders and a willingness of dryland farmers to unite as one voice – and so the HDLG was formed.
Having been in the job six weeks, Josh marvels at the number of volunteer hours that have already gone into forming the group, garnering support and getting farmers to pay an annual membership fee of $200.
He has now been charged with moving the group forward and Josh – like the group’s members – is determined it is going to be as much about encouraging and promoting good land management practices and community engagement as it is about providing a collective voice in regulatory and stakeholder forums.
But what Josh sees as a priority, is the collection of data; gathering objective information from farmers, Environment Canterbury and other environmental monitoring services, to ensure the information he is presenting to farmers – and the wider community – is credible and defensible.
He says Environment Canterbury have been very helpful in supplying data and he will be rolling out a farmer survey within the next few weeks- to see where the information gaps lie and get a handle on what is happening on farms around environmental management.
Good management practices
While the promotion of good management practices is part of his role, he certainly has no intention of driving up farmers’ driveways and telling them what to do.
Rather he will be listening to their concerns and understanding their values and what drives them and their businesses. For Josh, it’s about getting the information he needs to tell their stories and to underpin those stories with credible data.
At just 26, the affable Cantabrian has had a diverse career. Trained in outdoor education and sustainability, he has worked for an animal health multi-national and for Ballance Agri nutrients in their newly formed nutrient budgeting team.
For Josh, the most rewarding part of his careers so far has been setting up something new from scratch – which is what attracted him to the HDLG role.
He is adamant that the group will continue to be farmer-driven and while he will act as coordinator by bringing resources together, farmers’ will always be the face and the voice of the group.
So far, the HDLG has 130 members, representing around 20% of the farmed area in Hurunui and Waiau.
A condition of membership is the requirement to complete a Beef + Lamb New Zealand Farm Environment Plan (FEP) which is essentially pre-empting any regulatory requirements.
Reflecting the group’s values around good practice land and livestock management, Josh believes there is a real opportunity to use the information captured within the HDLG for marketing and most importantly, to engage positively with urban communities, government and regulatory organisations as well as NGOs.
Rather than waiting for regulations to dictate their land and resource management, the HDLG is determined to front-foot regulations and lead by example in showing that sheep and beef farmers are good stewards of the land.
The process the North Canterbury farmers have gone through can be used as a lesson for farmers throughout the country, all of whom will be facing environmental regulations required through the government’s National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management.
Josh believes the objectives and structure of the HDLG – which has been funded by Beef + Lamb New Zealand – can be used by other sheep and beef farmers – not only as they go through the regulatory process- but beyond, as they enter an era where consumers view environment management as being just as important as animal welfare and traceability.