Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Farm Environment Plans haven’t gone away


The avalanche of environmental regulation coming farmers’ way has continued to gain momentum, evidenced by the Minister for the Environment’s Action for Healthy Waterways announcement on 28th May. Although the Covid-19 lockdown caused a number of statutory processes to be delayed, a State of National Emergency, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, does not affect requirements under the Resource Management Act (1991). This is because the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act (2002) does not affect the function of any other law.

In time, all farms will require a Farm Environment Plan (FEP) of some form. At its heart, an FEP reflects Good Management Practice. It identifies environmental risks on a farm and sets out a programme to manage those risks, in alignment with the environmental outcomes sought by the farmer, catchment and regulator. There may be some regional differences in terms of FEP content, the qualifications of the person preparing it, the timeframe for completion, how often it is audited, and the inevitable costs involved. However, there are some fundamentals to preparing a robust FEP that can be started at any time and for minimal cost.

Easy FEP wins

Collecting good data – keeping stock of your fertiliser records, stock numbers, crop rotations, water use and a detailed farm map [see next page] are an excellent starting point. There is also no reason to hold back on getting started on an FEP. Many industry bodies have templates available to get started.

Irrespective of the status of national or local regulations, a robust FEP and accompanying nutrient budget provide an excellent tool to aid on-farm decision making, with respect to managing nutrient losses and environmental impacts, e.g. sediment runoff into waterway. Even if regulation is waiting in the wings in your region, getting started provides farmers with a longer lead-in time to prepare and plan financially for any changes that may need to be implemented on-farm.

FEPs are more than a regulatory requirement, they are a great tool for farmers to deliver meaningful farm-scale actions and achieve the desired water quality outcomes.

FEPs are consistent with our approach in measuring/modelling nutrient losses from the farm and undertaking mitigations that will have meaningful water quality impacts.

Who can help?

It’s important that FEPs are prepared by suitably qualified people. The majority of Ravensdown’s team of environmental consultants are Certified Nutrient Management Advisors. The team has national coverage, based in Waikato, Hawke’s Bay, Manawatu, Canterbury and Otago. They are available to complete nutrient budgets, FEPs and resource consent applications in all regions and work closely with our field-based agri-managers to ensure farmers have the right advice to meet their regulatory compliance obligations.

New Freshwater Policy

There has been much discussion on the new nitrogen cap of 190kg N/ha/yr to be imposed on pastoral farms from July 2021. This is but one aspect of a new National Environmental Standard for Freshwater that will also include provisions relating to intensive winter grazing, agricultural intensification and greater protection of natural wetlands and streams.

While the primary sector has been blindsided by the N fertiliser input limit, a number of points raised by Ravensdown [and others] in submissions have been recognised. These include amendments to the fencing requirements for waterways to not require existing fences to be moved and for some pragmatism in relation to fencing of hill country waterways on extensive sheep and beef properties, support for consistent guidance on winter grazing practices and a national requirement for a Freshwater Module to be included in FEPs.

An updated National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management is also imminent, although the Minister has signalled that the contentious universal Dissolved Inorganic Nitrogen limit for waterways is not being pursued at this time. We will see the inclusion of a number of new freshwater attributes in addition to those already actively managed by regional councils.