Even if your farm debt is high, you can take steps to change your farm system and management practices to become more resilient to price fluctuations and increasing environmental regulation impacts. Here are some research-backed suggestions, resources, and sources of funding

Get involved in our research

Our Land and Water researchers frequently collaborate with farmers. If you’re making changes to land management that are aligned with our research (or just thinking about it), we’d love to hear from you. You can get involved in our research in these ways.

  • Participate in our workshops (currently none scheduled).
  • Come to our Symposium.
  • Sign up for our newsletter to find out about future opportunities.
  • Check out our Resources.
  • Our researchers may need ‘case study’ farms, or examples of farms testing new production systems. Contact us to register your interest in participating.

Collaboration is key

Our Capacity for Transition research has shown that collaboration and cooperation is necessary for long-term trust, social licence, and sustainable change. Working with your catchment neighbours, aligned farmers, businesses along your supply chain, and building trust with your end customers will help you meet your aspirations.

  • Find a Rural Business Network Hub in your area.
  • Register to join an RMPP Action Group, which connects (and provides funding for) groups of 7 to 9 sheep, beef and deer farm businesses. Rural professionals and farmers in different sectors can also join these groups as connectors and facilitators.
  • Is there a Landcare Trust catchment group or restoration project for your catchment? Check here.
  • Dairy farmers can help grow urban-rural understanding and trust by hosting school dairy farm visits. Here’s how to sign up to Dairy NZ’s Find A Farmer programme.
  • If you’re interested in joining a farming cluster, contact Blinc Innovation to register your interest. A series of workshops will allow farmers to discuss issues with their colleagues in a safe and supportive forum.
  • Farmers who are early adopters and sustainability leaders – we encourage you to join networks, such as the Dairy Environment Leaders Forum, and share your knowledge.

Our Land and Water research-backed advice

Our Land and Water recommends more than 40 types of mitigations, which go beyond industry good practice to additionally reduce agricultural contaminants entering New Zealand’s waterways. However our research tells us it will take more than mitigation to achieve our country’s water quality goals: land use change will also be required in many areas.

  • Our National Register of Actions research team is creating a national, online map that will link a recommended suite of actions to improve water quality, with outcomes at the nearest water quality indicator site. Meanwhile, the resources below may help.
  • Find a list of mitigation strategies in Assessment of Strategies to Mitigate the Impact or Loss of Contaminants from Agricultural Land to Fresh Waters (table 4, page 13–22), a report for the Ministry for the Environment. These mitigations allow you to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus losses from your farm by 20% to 50%, without costing more than 2%–10% of farm earnings before interest and tax.
  • Many on-farm options to reduce agricultural GHG emissions in New Zealand (identified in this July 2017 report to the Biological Emissions Reference Group) also have co-benefits for water quality.
  • Mitigations should be mixed and matched, applied based on cost and suitability to your property, says Our Land and Water chief scientist Rich McDowell. Advances in farm mapping (eg MitAgator) to develop farm environment plans (eg via your Regional Council-approved providers) can identify your critical source areas and allow mitigation practices to be targeted precisely, improving their cost-effectiveness.
  • Applying farm dairy effluent (FDE) to shallow free-draining soil can significantly increase phosphorus leached to waterways, where it stimulates algal growth. Our research suggests that FDE should not be applied to freely draining shallow stony soil (or similar soils) under irrigation. Effluent technology is newly becoming available that separates FDE into treated water and solids within effluent ponds.
  • Our research has shown that 77% of stream contaminants come from small streams that aren’t required to be fenced or planted. We encourage you to extend livestock exclusion strategies such as riparian planting beyond the minimum required, to smaller streams on your farm.
  • Using variable rate irrigation to adjust the volume of irrigation water according to soil type and soil conditions can cut the amount of nitrogen and phosphate being lost by 70%-80% compared to standard irrigation practice, found our Sources and Flows research. For farmers interested in seeing if precision irrigation could help reduce their nutrient losses, the first step would be to map the soil on their property to see if it is variable or consistent, said former IrrigationNZ CEO Andrew Curtis. For properties with variable soil types, using variable rate irrigation is worth investigating further.
  • The next step is to use soil moisture sensors to minimise drainage. Sensors can also control irrigation systems automatically. If there’s no drainage, there’s no leaching. All the moisture and nutrients being applied through irrigation stay within the root zone to be utilised by the plants.
  • In some areas, some farm systems may not meet water quality goals, even with the right mitigations in the right place. Before investing heavily in mitigations, it’s worth reconsidering what your land is most suitable to produce. Our Land Use Suitability research is developing tools that will help.
  • Iterative land-use changes, beginning with your critical source areas, can better match production to your land. “Practising adaptive management – where you try a plan, see how it works, then modify it – that incremental improvement is the way to go forward,” says Scott Larned, of Our Land and Water’s Land Use Suitability programme.
  • Forestry, native regeneration, fruit or arable crops may be more profitable than livestock agriculture, particularly when future policy requires greenhouse gases and agricultural contaminants to be fully accounted for. Currently untried or experimental land uses could create even more value. Our Land and Water research into next generation farming systems is exploring such options, and ways to overcome risks and barriers.
  • Find Our Land and Water-backed land-use tools in the Toolbox.

Industry guidance

Check your industry guidelines for environmental advice specific to your farm system, and additional pointers on where to best use on-farm mitigation strategies.

Helpful resources

In addition to the best practice information provided by your industry body, the following resources may be useful.

Where to find funding

Funding and support for on-farm initiatives is available, particularly for riparian planting and wetland restoration. Contact your regional council, local iwi or the organisations below to access funding and support in your region.

  • Regional councils are often a good source of funding.
  • Landcare Trust NZ regional coordinators have a good understanding of the different funding sources
  • Funding for sheep, beef, deer and dairy farmers is available through the RMPP Action Network.
  • The government’s One Billion Trees Fund provides grants to landowners, groups and organisations to plant native trees, trees for erosion control, and managed retirement of land.
  • The Million Metres Streams Project can list a watercourse on your property for funding.
  • Apply for trees or pledge land via Trees That Count
  • Department of Conservation’s Community Fund supports community-led conservation projects on public and private land.
  • DoC’s website has a long list of other national organisations that provide funding and grants for conservation projects.
  • The government’s Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund funds innovative projects that will create more value from the food and fibre industries. Projects can range from small, one-off initiatives requiring a small grant, to multimillion-dollar partnerships.
  • The Ministry for Primary Industries lists a number of funding programmes on its website.
  • If you’re thinking about exporting, the Te Hono website lists funding options and advisors.
  • Agmardt offers capability grants to future leaders in agribusiness.
  • Our Land and Water anticipates launching a Stakeholder Fund to support stakeholder and end-user led research. Please sign up for our newsletter for announcements.