A new voluntary sustainability and continuous improvement standard developed by the Red Meat Profit Partnership (RMPP) has been piloted by sheep and beef farmers.
Building on the success of the New Zealand Farm Assurance Programme (NZFAP), the piloted NZFAP Plus Standard covers land and water management, greenhouse gases (GHG), biodiversity, biosecurity and people management.
Thirty-three farmers took part in the pilot programme to determine the achievability, costs and benefits of the draft Standard with the results highlighting support for the initiative and potential gains. The farmers also provided valuable insights into programme implementation.
Alan McDermott, Project Manager, said the draft standard gave many of the pilot farmers the confidence to act, including reinforcing and validating they were on the right track, opportunities for improvement and a clear direction and framework to follow for making decisions about resource management.
“This is something farmers have been seeking, with farmers saying it is necessary and timely. Farmers reported the standard provided a foundation for clear, precise and consistent communication with their farm team, including their bankers, advisors, employees and their communities and supported proactive and planned decision-making.
“It also provides a very clear means for farmers to underpin the Fit for a Better World and Te Taiao strategy, as well as a number of processors’ marketing strategies.
“The standard supported them to make farm system changes to protect and enhance their natural resources, which will ensure sustainable production in the future, and meant they felt much more prepared for the coming regulatory environment.”
Most of the pilot farmers were now looking at their land and business differently as a result of the trial, he said.
The existing knowledge of farmers must be acknowledged – there are many examples of excellence highlighting that many farmers are well down this path already.
“This includes relatively mundane things such as siting water troughs to avoid negative impacts, but also connecting all the various aspects of natural resource management of land, water, GHG and biodiversity and seeing how addressing those in an integrated manner makes good business and environmental sense.
“The areas in which farmers have the most progress to make are biodiversity management, GHG management, nutrient management, having the detailed and precise base understanding of their natural resources through comprehensive farm mapping and analysis and biosecurity management.
“The pilot assisted a number of farmers to identify additional biosecurity risks, especially around plant pests, and new ways of managing those. Biosecurity procedures were rarely documented beyond an animal health plan.
“Documentation was the main area requiring attention, and this does require one or more digital solutions that farmers can use to simplify planning, record keeping and monitoring. Establishing such solutions needs to be a high priority for the sector.”
Farmers made particular progress on soil health assessments using the Visual Soil Assessment (VSA) approach and winter management recording, reflecting the value farmers saw in these activities, he said.
“Implementation was relatively straight-forward and these areas have a strong connection to their farming business.”
The costs faced by farmers to prepare for NZFAP Plus also varied widely from a few hundred dollars through up to $16,000 where farmers needed to bring in professional support to map their farm, complete a nutrient/GHG budget and develop a comprehensive action plan covering land, water, GHG and biodiversity.
There would also be some ongoing costs associated with outcome monitoring, but the greatest costs for farmers would be the continued implementation of their environmental action plans.
“There is no doubt that constructing such a comprehensive farm plan is a challenge and will take time, and many farmers will require significant support.
“However, it is the best pathway through which farmers can create a legacy and to own their future. Farmer ownership of farm planning is essential for widespread uptake and success.”
The RMPP programme ends on 31 March 2021 and the NZFAP and NZFAP Plus programmes have transitioned to NZFAI, an incorporated society comprising 15 meat processing companies, a wool company, a dairy sheep milk company, Beef + Lamb New Zealand, and Deer Industry New Zealand.
NZFAI is now further developing and refining the standard into an operational assurance programme.
Nick Beeby, NZFAI Chair, said: “We are committed to exploring ways to support farmers in these areas so we can maximise the uptake of the NZFAP Plus Standard.”