“And it’s working. We have hard proof that water quality in the region is already beginning to show signs of improvement as a result of farmers fencing off waterways to exclude dairy cattle, and planting out riparian buffer zones that help to filter nutrients before they reach the water,” says Tom.
“The latest data from Environment Canterbury (ECan) shows that 90 percent of the region’s farms have taken action to get a land use consent, but a number are on waitlists for nutrient budgets. A farm environment plan is a requirement of their consent, so we can say with confidence that the vast majority of farmers have an environmental plan, also known as a Sustainable Milk Plan (SMP).
“Important though it is, the plans are not just about farmers meeting regulatory requirements,” says Tom. “These plans are just as much about having truly sustainable dairy farm businesses that strike a balance in getting the best out of the farm, while also achieving the best for their people and the environment.”
SMPs were first developed by DairyNZ about five years ago, says the organisation’s catchment engagement leader, Angela Harvey.
“The primary purpose then was to raise farmers’ awareness of environmental risk areas on their farm, and to have them start taking steps towards a more sustainable footing before regulations were introduced. Many farmers had already been well on this journey so having the plan did focus their activity to the areas where the most environmental gains could be made.
“We helped the farmer pinpoint what needed to be done and involve consultants to work closely with them to explain the reasons why certain options were better than others, and provide detailed plans and direction for the work to be carried out.”
She adds that farmers have found the SMP process so much more rewarding than simply being told what to do by a regulator.
“Along the way, farmers have also told us they have been gratified by the fact that farming to SMPs has also helped them to be sustainable across the board, not only achieving better outcomes for their environment, but also for farm teams and the business bottom line.
“It’s been a pleasure seeing farmers’ passion to improve the environment they farm, and particularly find innovative and clever environmental solutions to reduce nitrogen leaching, and ultimately improve water quality of their dairy waterways. It’s been even more exciting to see their work begin to have tangible and positive results.”
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