One Path Leads to Others

(Published on 23rd December 2015)

Dry land farmers in North Canterbury have been tested in many ways over the years, and no more so than in current times with the on-going impacts of El Nino and facing the 'devil's  in the detail ' associated with regional river plans. Farmers in this region are taking the bulls by the horns and moving to form and incorporate a Hurunui-Waiau Landcare Group; in November following workshops under the umbrella of the North Canterbury Sustainable Farming Systems SFF  Project  60 farmers have committed to join, form and help fund this group, with additional cash and in-kind funding becoming available from a range of industry groups.

The Mission statement of the group is 'to achieve a fair outcome for low emitting farmers through the Hurunui-Waiau River Regional Plan (HWRRP) review process' as well as focussing on education and advocacy for members. It has established a group purpose as well as principles for managing water quality. These can be seen in detail in the paper Hurunui-Waiau Catchment Landcare Strategy.  For a farmer to join the group Overseer will need to be completed (but only re-done if the farm system changes significantly),  a Beef+Lamb NZ Farm Environment Plan (FEP)  undertaken, pay a membership fee and have their FEP reviewed by the group coordinator (20% done every year). Details of FEPs and reviews will not be passed to external parties or organisations.

This approach has evolved from the earlier pathway to establish formal nutrient management  collectives in sub catchments along with allied environmental management strategies as required through the HWRRP.

At the November workshops, attended by 100 farmers and advisors,  a number of farmers spoke of the many benefits of working collaboratively in a larger Landcare Group, rather than in the smaller sub-catchment groups previously in place. The benefits ranged from the community owning the solutions, having a strong mandate in representing dry land farmers through formal plan processes, to building information on the impacts of dry land farming to present in planning forums, to giving effect to acting collectively as it was stronger than individual voices, 'we needed to be at the table rather than on the menu' as other strong industry groups present in a professional manner. The group would be able to tell the stories of the long term commitment to building resilient rural communities.

The evolution to a Landcare Group is supported by the Hurunui Waiau Zone Committee (HWZC) as the benefits of a large group providing education on farm practice and advocacy assists the Committee's aims to build strong relationships with the community to achieve the outcomes under the planning strategies. In early 2016 the Landcare Group will elect a governance group, seek formal incorporation as well as engage a part time coordinator.

In parallel with catchment and Landcare group development the SFF project has been assessing catchment issues and solutions, working with ECAN to bring understanding of science on water to the groups as well as working with Beef+Lamb NZ to develop and pilot Land Environment and Farm Environment planning in Canterbury. In addition development options for dry land farming in North Canterbury have been assessed.

The North Canterbury Landcare Manual has just been completed and addresses good management practices noting there is no 'one size fits all' approach and provides guidance, tips and examples for  the management of nutrients, soil practice, good waterways, rubbish, offal and silage effluent management, as well as biodiversity practice.

A companion Good Management Practices poster, the fifth in a series in the South Island, is also complete. Both the manual and poster have had considerable input from the dry land farmers in North Canterbury. Hard copies of these publications will be available through the project early in 2016.

The contents of the manual will be of interest to dry land farmers across Canterbury and beyond. Perhaps of more interest are the case studies; as a 'snapshot' they clearly demonstrate that dry land farmers have been committed to environmental outcomes for a long time, and their gains have been made with those in mind. Within this 'snapshot' we see:

  • that farm plans have been integral for successful operations for some years
  • intensive strategies are in place for pest weed management including wilding pines and Chilean needle grass
  • diversification is 'business as usual'
  • fencing of buffer zones, wetland protection is 'business as usual'
  • farm subdivision is based on the natural capabilities of blocks and soil type
  • crop management is utilised to manage surplus nutrients and restorative rotations are in place to protect soils
  • water quality testing on farm reinforces the effectiveness of the farm's environmental management
  • stock policies shaped by local climatic challenges and plant species are changing to build drought tolerance
  • QE 2 covenants are in place for large areas and a range  of historic and landscape values are protected through both farm practices as well as formal agreements
  • that working in catchment groups is beneficial for the community as well as for farm practice
  • and many more

The experience of North Canterbury dry land farmers with planning processes and their response through a now bottom up rather than top down community group is perhaps an exemplar for other areas and regions and will continue 'in the vanguard' for some time to come in parallel with their long term commitment to their farms and community.


Phil Keene





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