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Twice as many farms now have a plan to reduce their environmental footprint

  • August 23, 2019
  • 4 min read

As World Water Week approaches, it’s important to remember that a goal without a plan is just a wish. When it comes to increasing sustainability on farm, the same principle applies. Our Co-op is working with our farmers to develop Farm Environment Plans that will make a real difference for generations to come.

New Zealand dairy farmers lead the way in the world for sustainable dairying, with high productivity, year-round pasture grazing, and lower use of supplementary feeds. 

However, the scale of the industry in New Zealand means that our environmental footprint is of national and global significance.

Reducing our environmental impact is the first critical step to ensuring we maintain the support of our community and regulators, while protecting our brand and reputation with our customers.

We are always looking for new tools that can provide our farmers with more clarity and information to support their decisions, find efficiencies, and improve their farms’ sustainability.

We’ve developed The Co-operative Difference – a straight-forward guide to help farmers understand what they need to do today and what they need to do to prepare for the future.

It aims to better connect what our consumers and communities are looking for and what our farmers need to do to meet those expectations.

A key part of The Co-operative Difference is our offering of a tailored Farm Environment Plans (FEP) to our farmers at no additional cost, which could cost approximately $4,700 elsewhere. Having a FEP is also a step to achieving recognition.

A FEP documents risks, identifies opportunities, and maps out how improvements could be made, recognising the farmer’s business and sustainability goals. FEPs are an effective method of promoting good management practices in a way that is most suitable for an individual farm. In some regions, having a FEP is already a regulatory requirement and this is likely to become more widespread in the future.

Bay of Plenty Sustainable Dairying Advisor Karl Rossiter says the uptake of FEPs has been great. 

"I'm snowed under with farmer demand,” Karl says, “but that’s a good thing.”

As of 31 July, 23% of our farms now have a FEP, whereas last year only 12% of farms had a FEP.

“In the 17 years I’ve worked at Fonterra, the FEP is one of the best tools I’ve seen for farmers. It’s like having a light turned on in a really dark room – the FEP gives farmers a really clear view of their farm’s opportunities and risks,” says Karl.

Karl stresses that this isn’t just another document.

"It's not something we write and dump on their table, or something they file under their bed. To develop a plan, we walk the property with the farmer,” Karl explains.  

“Together we look at the farm’s terrain, waterways, the size and complexity of the farm, effluent management, stocking rates, cropping regimes, nitrogen management and more.

The FEPs includes a farm map and photos of critical locations, documents risks, and identifies opportunities for improvement, recognising the individual farmer’s budget and sustainability goals. We include practical actions to effectively address any identified risks and clear timelines to complete the work.

Karl Rossiter, Bay of Plenty Sustainable Dairying Advisor

Our Co-op has a team of 27 Sustainable Dairying Advisors, who use their local and regional knowledge to support our farmers.

There are very specific rules in each region, for things like effluent storage and pond sealing, and standards are constantly evolving. Our SDAs are able to provide our farmers guidance based on council rules and, even more importantly, where we believe regulation is heading.

Sustainable Dairying Programme Lead Andrew Kempson believes Farm Environment Plans are critical for dairy moving forward. 

“It’s no secret the regulatory landscape is always evolving. In some regions, having a FEP is already a regulatory requirement and this is likely to become more widespread in the future.

“The Waikato Regional Plan Change will require farmers to develop and implement a Farm Environment Plan either as part of a Certified Industry Scheme or through resource consent, so individualised FEP’s will help farmers meet the changing regulations,” says Andrew.

“In the long term, this will also deliver land and water quality benefits, which is a win-win for everyone. FEPs are already required in a number of regions such as Canterbury and Southland, and are a useful tool for all farmers regardless of regulatory requirements.”