NZ Farmer: Environment now a focus for many sectors

Rick Burke, writing for NZ Farmer:

When I joined the Mid Northern Beef+Lamb Farmer Council seven years ago the word environment was hardly mentioned.

Now the environment is a major focus for the sector, aiming to improve ecosystem health on-farm while optimising land use on the grazing platform and improving profitability.
B+LNZ's environment team is to unveil its new strategy and new talent.

Beef + Lamb New Zealand's environment team is looking forward to discussions this year with key stakeholders about a new draft environment strategy as three new faces to the team bring a range of skills and expertise.

Environment Strategy Manager Julia Beijeman says Richard Parkes, Lauren Phillips and Alice Bradley bring with them a range of technical, environmental science and legal expertise coupled with a sound knowledge of agricultural systems and communication skills.

Their strategy focuses on four clear and tangible outcomes— cleaner water, healthy soils, thriving biodiversity and towards carbon neutrality. These will underpin the environment team's work. The strategy will be shared with some key stakeholders as part of a consultation process before it is launched later this year.

Beijeman says sheep and beef farmers work tirelessly in the environment space, so a focus for this year will be to better understand, capture, share and support these farmer actions. Key activities for the team will include working with farmer-driven catchment groups, refreshing B+LNZ's Farm Environment Planning resources, and undertaking projects that link farmer actions with community outcomes.

One of the challenges with working with natural systems is the time-lag between actions and outcomes.

"It is massive. While farmers can be working hard to manage for environment risk, it can be some time before results are reflected in outcomes such as water quality.

"One of the biggest issues that these long timeframes pose is that our farmers will continue to face increasing public scrutiny, even though they're seeking to manage possible environmental risks," says Beijeman.

One of the best ways B+LNZ can support its levy payers is to help link on-farm actions to community expectations.

"This year we will be piloting state-of-the-art tools, to help bring this new dimension into farmer decision making, to both better target on-farm actions, and to manage expectations around the immediate results that will occur."

Another focus area for the environment team will be aligning environmental management with the New Zealand's Red Meat brand and product story, which is under development.
It will leverage off this country's natural farming systems and unique environment.

Beijeman believes Farm Environment Plans can be used to help quantify marketing claims and allow consumers to see how farmers are protecting and enhancing their natural resources.

While running Farm Environment Plan workshops are a core part of B+LNZ's business, Beijeman believes there is opportunity to better align resources to the four key pillars of the Environment Strategy, and to provide on-going support to farmers.

In all of its work, the environment team will be looking to work with partners to deliver information, advice and on-going support to its levy-paying farmers.

Underlying all of B+LNZ's environment activities is work to shape and inform Government policy and planning.

Sheep and beef farming systems are complex and unique, says Beijeman.

"We need environmental policy and planning frameworks that recognise this complexity and allow farmers to come up with their own innovative environmental solutions."

In addition to the organisation's flagship environmental projects, B+LNZ will continue advocating for the sector, and empowering farmers to advocate for themselves- as regional councils around the country set their nutrient limits.

As well as fostering innovation, B+LNZ would also like to see councils taking a natural capital approach to nutrient allocation rather than grandparenting.

This, says Beijeman, allows sheep and beef farmers to optimise their farming systems, provide greater flexibility to respond to market signals, while enabling farming within environmental limits.

B+LNZ's environment team has grown exponentially over the past three years. Starting with just one person, the organisation now employs seven full-time environmental experts.

"We are entering an exciting and challenging new year, with strong environmental signals coming from the new Government.

But with a new Environment Strategy being developed, and a team of experts on board, B+LNZ is up to the challenge and is looking forward to continuing its work for the sheep and beef sector."