Future Landscapes

Actions to Include in a Farm Environment Plan

We're seeking feedback on a reference tool showing land management actions, to inform its further development into an action prioritisation tool.

Our Land and Water researchers have published several papers that describe actions to mitigate the loss of contaminants from agricultural land. Our research frequently refers to “mitigation actions” and “management actions”, but if people wanted to find a list of these actions they had to search within academic papers.

These papers also provide useful guidance on cost-effectiveness, co-benefits and potential standardised measurements – but this information hasn't been easily accessible.

We want to take this knowledge out of academic papers, remove complexity, and enable land managers to filter the information to present only the most relevant actions.

As a first step, we have combined information from these papers into a reference tool to support decision-making and communication.

The infographic below (click here to view at full screen width) enables landowners to filter the actions available for their farm system, and zoom in to focus on any of five critical issues (nitrogen, phosphorus, E.coli, sediment and GHGs). Applying both a farm type and issue filter enables a pop-up for each action containing a short description and data on co-benefits, factors that may limit application,  and potential standard measurements.




The ‘action boxes' are sized according to estimated cost-effectiveness, with a larger box indicating a more effective and/or lower-cost action.

We have included actions in common use, with cost-effectiveness estimates that have been previously published. We have also included some developing mitigation actions, to which we've applied a non-peer-reviewed estimate of cost-effectiveness (indicated by an asterix). The GHG actions have not yet been assigned cost-effectiveness mitigations.


Feedback wanted to inform the next steps

This tool has been created for information purposes using a free data visualisation service, so it is quite rough around the edges. We're now working with industry to take it up a level.

The next step is to develop a custom tool that can help land managers prioritise actions for their farm environment plans. Planned improvements in the next stage of the tool may include more information about cost and effectiveness, and enabling more specific filtering by dairy farm typology.

We are very interested in feedback from land managers, farm advisors, farmers and industry body representatives. What would you like to see added to this tool? What would make it an effective action prioritisation tool for your farm environment plan?

Please comment below, and we'll consider your feedback when building the prioritisation tool.


Annabel McAleer

Communications Manager, Our Land and Water. Text in this article is licensed for re-use under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)


  • Definitely make available as an app. Something with a login where you can customize and keep the result in an ‘account’. I work with facilitating farm environment plans and this looks really good. Calculator function with known estimated pricing for certain size/tasks like fencing or planting

  • I’m a little perplexed. The intro to this refers to agricultural land but the way the categories are set up seems to be based on lowland systems.
    The farm types don’t include a sheep/beef option and or hill country.
    The mitigations seem to be lowland based. I’m coming to this conclusion based on the fact that under the dryland farming category tree planting is only a low scoring mitigation for sediment control. The sediment reduction ratings seem to be based more on sheet and rill erosion types rather than mass movement erosion.

  • Add further info so that, in addition to the pop-ups, a user can click an option and get access to more detailed information on how to install, costs and benefits, etc. Could even have relevant reports and academic papers for those interested. I also endorse Lucy’s suggestion of enabling a user account where the user can adjust the estimated costs and effectiveness to reflect their situation, with a calculator.

  • Historically the first thing to do is soil map a property; the intervention priorities and cost estimates, are going to be based around the soils, aspect, climate, stage of development etc, all the elements that go into the development of LUC maps and LMU’s. (Soil and land utilisation science is not a half hour lecture, trying to deliver tools without developing the knowledge base is fraught. Whilst I think the APP has potential I feel it could fall into the trap of one rule for all and then try and tweak to the individual situation when it needs a re-write).
    Can the APP build a ‘3D image’ of the land management parcel prior to sizing the boxes?

  • It looks a useful tool at a national level in order to identify potential opportunities and gaps in the mitigation toolbox. It could possibly be used by regional policy makers as a check to ensure that their regional plan provisions encourage realistic, practical and meaningful responses by landowners in general. When I am working with landowners at a catchment and farm scale we have to take into account: interactions with the existing farm systems and mitigations already in place, the soils, topography, rainfall, existing transport and infra-structure, stage of development, farmer capability, liquidity, debt and equity, temporal and spatial priorities. At these scales (catchment and farm) I think that this tool can be useful for communication and as a check on the completeness of our discussions.
    What I wouldn’t like to see is Regional Councils incorporating this list into their Regional Plans as a checklist that individual farmers have to implement before they can obtain the consents they might need to continue to operate.

  • Extremely useful visual starting point.
    Would be good to see the next level provide more detailed information on effectiveness ranges, relative costs and limitations to build on the important McDowell et al 2013 paper.
    A catchment focus is essential but a majority of practitioners are working with individual farms to help implement catchment objectives. Therefore, there will continue to be an acute need for robust information that can be applied at the farm level.
    Perhaps some work would be useful on the non-peer reviewed information. Instinctively we tend to give that much less weight but that may not always be appropriate. Some very robust non-peer reviewed information is available and should be recognised as such.
    For technical references to be useful to practitioners they need to be open access. To be blunt there is no point in linking to publications (e.g., Doehring et al 2020) that are not freely available. Big thumbs up to McDowell at al publishing in an open access journal. Can the National Science Challenge and contributing CRIs/research organisations/universities commit to publishing non-commercial research in open access journals?

  • The title of this decision guidance tool “Actions to include in a farm environment plan” highlights the problem we presently have with science providers – detail before a workable framework.
    The farm plan process whilst not new is currently morphing into a new toolset that farmers will need to use as part of Essential Freshwater, Zero Carbon, Regenerative agriculture and Te Mana o te Wai.
    We are grappling with the need to manage natural resource in a manner not to breach limits and / or there will be a reducing ceiling of allowable externalised loss. We may find that some land use today is misplaced with expected reduction of pollutant loss too great beyond the application of good practice mitigation actions therefore perhaps needing deintensified land use change.
    For example, if the freshwater DIN attribute is to apply, then in some catchments the full suite of mitigative action(s) may not be enough. If GHG methane reduction is set too high beyond all realism noting it is a short-lived gas, then again mitigative action around the edges will not suffice.
    In closing, I applaud the tool development, there is some smart thinking being applied but unfortunately a farmer needs to firstly understand applicable to their farm property the pollutant loss as an externalised discharge relative to a bottom line. This then provides needed parameters to explore suitability or not of different mitigative actions, tailorised as a package, and the benefit they may provide.
    An integrative tool as a framework that would assist enliven the farm environment plan as a living document bringing in all biophysical information into one platform at a workable 1:10,000 scale or better would be transformative. From such a platform overlain with a particular land use would then allow exploration of mitigative action impact to optimise desired outcomes.

  • our team have developed an intergrative framework to support farmers and the changes needed to restore our soil and water quality, involving broad soil/water testing, basic nutrient education, N&P reduction pathway and a land rating made up of 60 criteria that is inclusive of hapu/iwi determined Mana O Te Wai and next season targets from criteria, this allows farmers/growers to budget for their next season targets (NST).


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top