Farmer input critical to freshwater farm plans work

// Farm Planning

More than 750 farmers completed B+LNZ’s recent survey on freshwater farm plans, which tested our existing positions to inform discussions with the Government. While farm plans have an important role to play, we believe the current mandatory requirements go too far.

Car driving on field

Chief executive Sam McIvor says B+LNZ has supported farm planning for two decades to enable good business and farm management practice.  

“We support farm planning as an alternative to consenting in regional plans – as a way to manage environmental issues in a way that focuses on outcomes, rather than blanket rules.  

“However we do not think that every farmer nationwide should be required to do a mandatory regulatory freshwater farm plan. The threshold for determining who is required to do one should be based on the risk from different activities to the environmental issues in the catchment, and whether the farmer is undertaking at-risk activities.  

“Furthermore, the level of detail and auditing required by those that are required to do a regulatory plan should vary depending on their level of risk. 

“To have a freshwater farm plan framework succeed, it needs to be anchored to a risk-based approach and not simply a blanket mandatory requirement.  

 “A risk-based approach ensures resources are prioritised towards the management of activities that have the biggest impact on water quality. This applies not just to the resources of farmers, but also to the resources of regulators, farm advisors, and all others that play a role in freshwater quality management.” 

McIvor noted that B+LNZ has recently committed to being more transparent about its policy advocacy and the survey was a way to quickly test farmer support for positions on freshwater farm plans.  

The survey 

The survey had one of the highest response rates of any survey B+LNZ has conducted and McIvor thanks everyone who took part.  

The survey asked respondents to indicate how strongly they agreed or disagreed with statements that were based on our existing positions.  

As a general rule, there was really good agreement with the positions we tested with farmers. Most farmers agreed that the content and monitoring of freshwater farm plans should be linked to their risks.  

However there were less strongly held views on whether regional authorities should provide the information needed for a risk assessment and whether freshwater farm plans should be used as alternatives for consents.  

“The survey was useful to check whether anything wasn’t quite landing with farmers. Overall it showed we’re on the right track and we can continue discussions with the Government knowing these are backed by farmer input.” 

McIvor says one common theme in the free text field at the end of the survey was the ‘leading’ nature of the survey statements. “We apologise for not making it clearer that was deliberate and the survey was about testing our views.  

“The statements all reflected our existing positions and if there had been significant disagreement on any of them, we would have relooked at that position.” 

He also noted that B+LNZ had received questions about how the survey fits with B+LNZ’s support for farm planning.  

“Our survey was focused on a response to a mandatory, one-size-fits-all approach to freshwater farm plans, not farm planning generally, nor the potential for farm planning to play a role in regional freshwater management. 

“We remain committed to farm planning as an effective tool for farmers.” 

Next steps 

While it was important to get initial farmer input on this specific topic, in parallel B+LNZ is continuing to work towards having farmer focus groups develop a policy roadmap for freshwater, which will include the role of farm plans.  

“The outcomes of this work will also be tested with farmers more widely, and we’ll be keeping farmers informed.”  

B+LNZ will also continue to work with DairyNZ and Federated Farmers on areas of common concern relating to farm plans.  

The survey results in detail 

  • Position statement 1: Certified and audited freshwater farm plans should NOT be mandatory for every farmer. 

83% of respondents agreed (including 75% strongly agreeing). 

  • Position statement 2: Any requirement for a farm plan should be based on the risk posed by the farm’s activities, and the health of the particular catchment. 

87% of respondents agreed (75% strongly). Comments throughout highlighted the importance of water testing.   

  • Position statement 3: Using a tailored farm environmental plan to manage a farms potential impact on freshwater is better than using blanket rules. 

92% of respondents agreed (81% strongly).   

  • Position statement 4: Farmers should undertake a simple risk assessment to understand the risks associated with their farming operation and determine whether a farm plan is required at all. 

The percentage of farmers that agreed was lower, at 81% (including only 66% strongly agreeing). This was reflected in a few comments by responders who were concerned about a few bad eggs dragging the rest of the sector down. 

  • Position statement 5: Regional authorities should provide the information and tools needed for farmers to complete a risk assessment. 

77% of respondents agreed (61% strongly).   

  • Position statement 6: If a plan is required, the timeframes, level of detail in the plan, and any auditing requirements should vary depending on the risk. 
  1. The information/detail required in the farm plan should be commensurate to the level of risk being managed.  
  2. The frequency of any auditing should depend on the level of risk. 
  3. The cost of any system should be minimal. 

92% of respondents agreed (79% strongly).  

  • Position statement 7: Farm environmental plans should be used as an alternative to getting a consent from the regional council for some higher risk farming activities. 

71% of respondents agreed with using farm environment plans as an alternative to consents. This included the lowest percentage of “strongly agree” (56%) across all questions. 21% of respondents were unsure. But only 8% either disagreed or strongly disagreed.  

  • Position statement 8: Farmers should be able to complete the farm environmental plan themselves without the use of external consultants (especially in lower risk situations). 

93% of respondents agreed with this position (85% strongly). This reflects comments to simplify the process and reduce the costs associated with the current system. 

  • Position statement 9: Farm plans, where required, should not have a 2-step certification and auditing requirement as currently proposed. To reduce cost and duplication, a single step audit should be sufficient. 

92% agreed (83% strongly). 

  • Position statement 10: Where appropriate, existing industry plans or regional plans that meet farm environment plan requirements should be recognised as equivalent to avoid duplication. 

93% of respondents agreed (84% strongly). This also came through strongly in anecdotal comments throughout the survey.