Best practice farm plans hit milestone

Horizons Regional Council and hill country farmers are celebrating ten years of Whole Farm Plans helping to reduce erosion and improve water quality.  

Whole Farm Plans, which are a component of Horizons’ Sustainable Land Use Initiative (SLUI), aim to reduce erosion rates, build resilience in the rural sector and the regional economy, protect lowland communities from upstream erosion, and improve water quality. They are a voluntary service and fully funded by Horizons and Ministry for Primary Industries. 

Grant Cooper, Horizons environmental manager land, says the plans were introduced in response to the devastating 2004 floods, and after ten years the Council commissioned AgResearch to assess their impact.

“Farmers who sign up to SLUI receive a Whole Farm Plan which identifies how their land can be best utilised to maximise production and sustainability,” he says. 

“This may include intensifying land use of some areas and pole planting on better land, through to afforestation and retirement of the most eroding areas. The report surveyed 70 farmers to find out how this advice is being received and implemented.”

Dr Willie Smith, the lead researcher for the project, says the report identifies there is a strong perception by farmers, both adopters and non-adopters, that SLUI has made a major impact on environmental and economic sustainability. 

“Farmers broadly agree that they and their community are now much more resilient. This is in regards to any recurrence of the storm which hit the Region in 2004, or to any similar event, and regardless as to whether they are signed up to SLUI or not,” says Dr Smith.

“Those that are SLUI farmers agree the funding provided through the programme, backed by quality advice from Horizons, was a major factor in overcoming the time and cost constraints to completing more on-farm environmental work than they would have done otherwise. There was also no evidence that on-farm implementation of SLUI reduced the productivity or profitability of farming.”

Mr Cooper says Horizons is pleased to learn the report shows there is evidence Whole Farm Plans can provide a useful framework for improved farm management and growth.

“It was also positive to see that 75 per cent of farmers surveyed who aren’t currently signed up to SLUI said they could be persuaded to adopt it.  We understand that some may view the plans as too complex and the cost not justifying the outcome, however we are more than happy to work through these points with farmers and encourage anyone considering the programme to get in touch.”

AgResearch’s survey also included questions about the nutrient management plans that dairy farmers in priority areas are required to undertake under Horizons’ One Plan in order to help improve water quality. 

“While there was resistance to these plans when they were introduced in 2012 due to the potential impact they could have on farm profits, those surveyed broadly accept them now. All but one farmer AgResearch spoke to could see the link between improved environmental factors and water quality and the future well-being of their families,” says Dr Smith.

“These farmers that had a Whole Farm Plan also noted they were helpful for identifying key issues such as using fertiliser effectively, which can help bring down nutrient leaching on farms.” 

The full AgResearch report It’s Everybody’s Business: Whole Farm Plans – a vehicle for implementing policy is available here. The report was funded by Horizons, SLUI funding partner Ministry for Primary Industries, Ministry for the Environment, and AgResearch.

Since the 2005-2006 financial year, 634 SLUI Whole Farm Plans have been completed across the Horizons Region, with 152 plans finalised in the study areas. To date 475,000 hectares have been mapped through the Whole Farm Plan programme. 

SLUI has been recognised in a Landcare Research report which assessed the impact of the programme on sediment levels in the Region’s rivers in 2013. The closest scenario to how SLUI currently operates predicted the annual sediment load in rivers will reduce by 27 per cent as a result of SLUI works by 2043. To date almost 13 million trees have been planted and over 570,000 metres of waterways fenced off.

Research for this report involved in-depth interviews with 40 farmers in the Lower Rangitikei and Tiraumea Districts. Twenty of these were signatories to SLUI and included farmers who had signed on over the period 2006 to 2010. The remaining 20 had, to date, chosen not to participate. Twenty dairy farmers in the Mangatainoka who have nutrient management plans were interviewed, as well as 10 dairy farmers in the Lower Manawatu who are not required to have nutrient plans. The interviewees were randomly selected.

For more information about Whole Farm Plans and who qualifies for one, call toll free 0508 800 800 or email