Thursday 16 March 2017

Farm Environment Plans

There are a lot of buzz words floating around at the moment – nutrient management, nitrogen baseline, change in land use, Overseer, nutrient budget, and the topic of this article – farm environmental plans.

So what is a Farm Environmental Plan, or FEP as we like to call it?  It is a tool that guides farmers through an assessment of a farms environmental risks or issues, and is a written plan outlining how those risks or issues will be managed.  Because no two farms are alike, no two FEP’s will be alike either.  Each farm is unique in terms of its landscape, natural resources, farming practises and goals.

FEP’s are being used as a means for farmers to meet water quality objectives and outcomes, or limits set in regional plans.  In Canterbury for example, nearly every farm will be required to have and implement a FEP by 2017.  

The process in preparing a FEP is the same for all farms, and is really simple.  There are five easy steps.

1. Assessment

What and where are the environmental risks or issues on farm?  The farm specific environmental issues or risks include poorly drained soil, streams, waterways, wetlands, springs, steep or rolling topography, but this also refers to practices being carried out on farm.  Do you store fertiliser on farm?  How is it stored?  How is fertiliser spread and when?  Is the farm irrigated, and if so, how do you determine when to irrigate?  Cultivation practices, location of silage pits…

The second part of this is to consider what has already been accomplished.  Have you already fenced off waterways, carried out riparian planting, swapped to a GPS certified fertiliser spreader, installed soil moisture monitoring probes to determine when to irrigate, only make or purchase balage rather than pit silage?

The third part is the Overseer component. What are the losses that are occurring from your farm now?  How do they compare with any proposed catchment limits being talked about?  If your losses are high, then what changes can you make to reduce these?

2. Response

Now that you have identified the environmental issues or risks, and worked out what you have already accomplished, it’s time to fill the gaps. What else can be done?

3. Plan

What, how, where, when and how much?  Fencing off waterways for example – your assessment may have shown that there is 10km of fencing that needs to be completed.  There may be financial constraints that mean that all 10km cannot be fenced off in one go, but plan to do 2.5km per year for the next four years, and identify the areas that will be done each year – there may be a section that really needs to be done sooner rather than later as the environmental risk is higher (for example, a section where stock access several times a year as opposed to once a year), and this gets done in year one.

Any plan has to be reasonable and achievable – no point in making a plan that will never be able to be carried out – that defeats the whole purpose!

4. Implement

Carry out your plan.  Monitor what you do and record progress.  This is really important as FEP’s are subject to annual audits by independent people, therefore, you want to be able to show any auditor exactly what you have done, and whether it has achieved the environmental outcome you expected it too.

5. Review

Review your progress annually.  This can be part of the annual audit.  Reviewing your progress is important.  Have you noticed that some of your responses have worked really well, but others seem to be of very little environmental benefit at all?  A FEP is a living document, and as you learn what works and what doesn’t, then your FEP needs to be updated accordingly.

The most important thing to remember is that a FEP is for you and your farm, and it should be written this way.   It should not be an onerous task, nor viewed as a way to “trip you up”.    Use the opportunity to have a good look at the way you do things on farm, and why you do what you do. There are many other benefits too – not just environmental.  There are also financial gains to be made as things like water efficiency increase (less pumping costs), nutrient and fertiliser management practices change (less applied = less purchased).

There are many resources available to assist with preparing a FEP including toolkits and templates. But sometimes, you just need someone to point you in the right direction, and this is where we (Irricon) can help.    We are farmers too, and are going through the same process.  We are also learning as we go – I cannot stress enough that a FEP is not stuck in time – once it’s prepared, that’s it, end of story, but it is a living document, and as we learn, we are passing that knowledge on, as are many others. Therefore, don’t hesitate to seek advice and support from those in the know.

By Keri Johnston - Irricon Resource Solutions Limited.

Keri’s expertise is in the field of natural resources engineering and resource management, primarily in water resources, irrigation and nutrient management. As well as doing this, she farms with her husband and two girls at Geraldine.

Phone: (027) 2202425