Southland dairy farmer John White is passionate about his industry and being a good steward of the land and the environment. He suspects he shares
a similar vision for clean waterways as David Parker and Jacinda Ardern, but he has his own views about the best routes to achieve that vision.
John is one of more than 600 farmers
in the Aparima, Pourakino, Waimatuku and coastal Longwood catchments who back in 2018 committed to the Aparima Community Environment (ACE) Project. ACE is about farmers, land managers, extension experts and scientists working together to identify, implement and track.
environmental actions in a drive to improve water quality and reduce farm environmental footprints.
As he described to the recent Southland ‘Town & Country’ hui, good progress is being made. But John, and many of the other farmers in ACE, are very concerned that the government’s new freshwater regulations – widely recognised as flawed and impractical on a number of fronts – will suck the energy, resources and motivation out of the momentum already achieved.
The losers will be the environment, and the resilience of local rural communities.
There are scores of other farmer and community-led catchment groups dotted all over New Zealand, and John suspects they’re all feeling equally dispirited and angry that politicians and bureaucrats haven’t listened to those who work the land.
“We’re trying to live in the real world here with what we’re doing in ACE. I don’t think the people behind these new regulations can truthfully say the same.”
So, what has ACE been doing to date?
A lot of effort has gone into the push to have all 630 landholdings over 20ha
in the ACE catchment covered by Farm Environment Plans (FEPs) by May 2021. FEPs identify environmental risks and management options and must include actions to reduce sediment and nutrient loss, outline how wintering rules will be implemented, and where to riparian plant and fence. The plans are reviewed annually.
John says they are closing in on 60% of the land holdings being covered by FEPs.
Farmers with FEPs have been shown to be more likely to implement a range of good farming practices (GFPs), including grass buffers around waterways, soil testing of wintering paddocks, not cultivating critical source areas and cultivating across the slope where possible.
A survey of farmers in the ACE catchment in April showed 95% of respondents have excluded stock from waterways – up 4 percent on last year, and 87% use nitrogen fertiliser strategically (using amounts ‘little and often’ and only on certain parts of the farm).
Another ACE initiative has seen the development of the IWG App in conjunction with Environment Southland, which has been trialed this winter. This app allows farmers to log their crop paddock location, identify GFP in action and upload photos of the crop paddock and GFP’s in use.
Environment Southland is able to underlay the crop paddock location with all the relevant physiographic information and supply a report back to the farmer. “We hope to promote and upscale of the use of the app next winter to create a catchment-wide data base. ES holds the information on their database and this can be displayed in a dashboard.
“ACE sees the app as an integral part of a ‘Living FEP’. It may also represent
a potential opportunity and solution for immediate use rather than imposing consents.
ACE has just completed a project plan for its next phase which goes beyond FEP and GFP. Over the next three years, with the help of funding from Thriving Southland, the projects streams will include:
• Establishing model sediment traps in each catchment group with the vision of a network of sediment traps throughout Southland.
• Coordinating Community Stream Walks to promote direct action
on smaller waterways, engaging our community and transferring knowledge of mahinga kai and improved farming practices.
• Targeted water testing and training to lift community awareness and engagement.
• Delivering enhanced Farm Environment Plans to 8 host farmers representing different land use and physiographic within the Aparima.
• And a project to explore future. farming systems.