How are you planning on  future-proofing your farm?

How are you planning on future-proofing your farm?

23 September 2020

Farm Environment Plans (FEP) are vital for the long-term planning of sustainable farms. Developed with the support of Sustainable Dairying Advisors (SDA), the plans meet the individual needs of farms, reflect their key issues, and meet relevant regulatory requirements.

Reducing our environmental impact is the first critical step to ensuring our Co-operative maintains the support of its community and regulators while protecting its brand and reputation with our customers.

A key part of The Co-operative Difference is the offering of a tailored FEP to farmers compiled by our Sustainable Dairying Advisors (SDAs) at no additional cost, which could cost approximately $4,700 elsewhere.

An FEP documents risks, features photos of critical locations, assesses how the farm performs relative to good practice, identifies opportunities, and maps out possible improvements – all while recognising the farmer’s business, budget and sustainability goals.

Practical actions to effectively address any identified risks are also included, as well as clear timelines to complete the work.

With so many features, 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 an FEP is already a regulatory requirement, and this is likely to become more widespread in the future.

The FEP references back to the Dairy NZ Good Farming Practices which outline the best practice on farm. These best practices can be used to help form part of the regulatory requirements.

Bay of Plenty Sustainable Dairying Advisor Karl Rossiter says the uptake of FEPs has been great – so much so, they were snowed under by farmer demand.

“But that’s a good thing,” he says.

As of 31 July, this year, 34 percent of Fonterra farms had an FEP, whereas last year it was only 23 percent.

“In the 18 years I’ve worked at Fonterra, the FEP is one of the best tools I’ve seen for farmers – 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 leave the farmer to manage. The FEP is developed and managed by both the Sustainable Dairying Advisor and the farmer. To develop a plan, we walk the property with the farmer,” Karl says.

“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 farm environmental risk.” Across the country, there are 36 SDAs who use their local and regional knowledge to support farmers in the creation of FEPs.

While reducing environmental impact is a goal shared across the county, each region has its own specific rules for features such as effluent storage and pond sealing. Adding to the challenge is the fact that these standards are constantly evolving, so SDAs are on hand to keep farmers up to date with relevant council rules.

On the note of looking to the future, Environmental Programme Lead Andrew Kempson believes FEPs are critical for dairy moving forward.

“It’s no secret the regulatory landscape is always evolving, but one constant is that FEPs are viewed as being a really sensible and effective way to help farmers with practical solutions that they can implement on their farms,” Andrew says.

He adds FEPs are also incredibly useful for farmers beyond regulatory environment guidance, identification of environmental risks and prioritising of actions. The additional benefits of an FEP include:

  • Recording progress towards achieving good farming practice principles (GFP)
  • Helping to tell the stories of the actions of farmers at a local level
  • As we compete on a global scale, FEPs inspire confidence in environmental and production systems

Farmers have been surprised by how simple an FEP is to create, despite it being so detailed and personalised.

It’s something farmer and 2019 Fonterra Dairy Woman of the Year Trish Rankin found with her FEP.

“The plan identifies any ‘hot spots’ – what you are doing well and any areas for improvement. It’s a fresh pair of non-judgemental eyes looking over your farm, and it feels good to get it done before someone says you need to do it.”

The benefits of an FEP were also realised by Greg and Christine Langman when they decided to do one for their 114-hectare (ha) – 90 ha effective – farm in Te Pahu, outside of Te Awamutu. They’ve owned the farm since 1984 and have a peak herd of 180 cows.

Although having been farming with a sustainable focus for many years, and retiring in excess of 10 percent of the farm, they realised it was necessary to have outside eyes confirm they were on the right track.

They wanted a professional assessment of what they have done, where they could make improvements, and what they could do to take it to the next level.

Reflecting on the FEP process, Greg and Christine say farmers need to be prepared to allocate time for the SDA to visit and collect farm information and records. However, once the information is with the SDA, they say the process is “pretty simple”.

“We just gave the information to our SDA who gave us her interpretation of where we were at from the information we provided,” Greg says.

The outcome of that assessment identified risks that were going unnoticed in the day-to-day management of the farm.

An example was the build-up of erosion on a steep bank. Greg and Christine hadn’t taken too much notice of it, but through their FEP, they learned the risk the erosion presented and how to manage it.

The FEP also brought to their attention a wet area of land that Greg and Christine hadn’t given much thought to. With it on their radar, they decided to fence it, and now as a wetland it serves as a nice feature on the farm.

The erosion and wetland were among a number of risks and potential features identified in the FEP, and thankfully, it also prioritised the work that needed to be done immediately.

Greg and Christine are grateful Fonterra has taken the initiative to create the FEP, saying farmers are at a turning point where that information needs to be readily available – if not for Fonterra, for their local council, or someone else.

Working to improve their impact on the land has given Greg and Christine a sense of pride in their work.

“Sustainability is going to be the thing of the future, so the sooner people get into it, the more lead-in time they will have to modify their farming practices and at-risk areas on their farm,” Greg says.

He and Christine have a philosophy to leave your land in a better position than when you took over from it.

Looking at their farm, they are confident it is in better shape than when they bought it 37 years ago.

In saying this, Greg gives the advice that if you identify areas that are of no value to your dairy farming business, you might as well retire them.

“They are better growing trees and shrubs,” he says.

And it’s not just farmers who like to see their farms performing sustainably. Greg says FEPs also help to satisfy consumers who want to know they are purchasing products from farms with a sustainable focus.

“As a dairy farmer, a Farm Environment Plan is essential.

“It might not be implemented immediately, but it shows commitment to the environmental sustainability of our operations,” he says.

“If we, as the suppliers of Fonterra, want to enjoy the premium prices for the products we produce, we must show consumers that the production of our products is sustainable, and not detrimental to the environment.

“As part of a team of 10,000, if all farmers had an FEP, it would help Fonterra set the benchmark for environmental sustainability in dairying.”

Fonterra Suppliers can request a Farm Environment Plan at no additional cost via The Co-operative Difference farm dashboard at nzfarmsource.co.nz or by calling 0800 656 568.