The Government has a clear message for farmers: ignore climate change at your peril.
Nationwide more sheep and beef farmers are being required by regional councils to document the effect their farming practices are having on the environment.
Using FEPs these farmers must outline how they will mitigate any detrimental practices and show by their plans that their farms will meet regional environmental regulations.
With all the uncertainty and external pressures, farmers are grappling with the work they need to get done.
What really is a FEP? It is a plan that assesses the key issues of a council or a catchment. It must be completed by a suitably qualified rural professional who will normally charge for their time. This may look like just extra cost, more regulations and no benefit to the farm business.
But environmental management is a core part of business risk management and it pays to do it right the first time. The benefit lies in protecting yourself and your industry.
Issues like stock access to waterways and intensive winter grazing or cropping are high-profile subjects and are everyone’s responsibility. Poor management practices, even in isolated cases, can attract a lot of negative attention for individuals and for the whole industry.
While doing their planning, farmers often realise that achieving compliance or adopting better management practice is not as onerous as it may seem. For example, certain waterways or stock classes may not be covered by stock exclusion rules, or there may be management practices that mean no fencing will be needed.
More commonly, farmers find that through years of fencing for grazing management or to reduce stock losses they have already achieved much of what is required.
Many good practices to reduce environmental impacts are just common sense. They often raise productivity and profit by conserving soils, reducing the loss of valuable nutrients or improving stock health and performance.
To help a farmer meet targets, the role of the FEP is to correctly identify the scope of a problem, break it into achievable steps and set a reasonable timeframe for completion. This can bring a sense of realism to a task that at first looked overwhelming, or it can form part of a resource consent that will provide some legal protection.
If the rules require an FEP, it will need to be completed to a certain standard by, say, a certified nutrient management advisor. This advisor must fully understand the regulations and must know the farmer’s industry and business so that the plan meets all needs.
A lot of good environmental work is underway on sheep and beef farms NZ-wide and your farms FEP should acknowledge this.
Many challenges lie ahead but farmers should be proud of their achievements to date and be willing to keep playing their part in enabling smarter farming for a better NZ.
• Colin Tyler is a principal consultant environmental for Ravensdown.