We have prepared a guidance document for people who need to design effective FEPs, FEP templates and processes. The guidance is for government, regional councils, primary industry bodies, farm consultants and advisors, farmers and growers.
New rules will require every farm in Aotearoa New Zealand to have a Farm Environment Plan (FEP) for freshwater quality improvement, to be certified and regularly audited. This world-first approach to national-scale FEP coverage will later integrate these freshwater plans as modules of a full FEP that also addresses soil, greenhouse gas, biodiversity and more. The regulations governing FEPs and what they must contain are not yet finalised (as at March 2021).
FEPs must describe on-farm land management actions to contribute to freshwater improvements at catchment level. FEPs should be flexible, farm-specific tools that empower farmers to change and adapt. However, individual FEPs need to be linked with the wider catchment context to solve the many unique problems that put pressures on our waterways. Some standardisation of FEP templates and processes is therefore essential to ensure on-farm environmental actions are aligned, and to enable effective planning, recording and auditing across sectors.
Our Land and Water has prepared a guidance document for people who need to design effective FEPs, FEP templates and processes. The guidance is for government, regional councils, primary industry bodies, farm consultants and advisors, farmers and growers. The focus of this guidance is freshwater, in line with Our Land and Water’s objective.
Read more in Guidance: Designing Effective Farm Environment Plans (8-page PDF)
Catchment groups can play a key role in coordinating action to improve waterways, across property boundaries. Some catchment groups have reported that having a paid coordinator has enabled them to make progress much faster. The New Models of Collective Responsibility research programme for the Our Land and Water National Science Challenge will produce (by 2022) recommendations for catchment groups, including how government, councils and the primary sector can support catchment collectives.
While every farm is different, we need to align, record and compile actions taken on multiple farms in the same catchment. Standard definitions of actions and common measurement indicators are required.
Clear action definitions or protocols will provide clarity for land managers and make it more likely an action will work as designed. For some actions, where there are good reasons to vary on-farm practice, guidelines may be more appropriate than rigid definitions.
Standardised measurement indicators need to be developed for each FEP action that are outcome-based and consistent across scales, sectors, and for multiple end users are also required. This will enable land managers to measure their actions and track progress of their achievements over time, and allow actions to be recorded in a way that enables data from multiple farms to be compiled, and progress compared across sectors. This will help councils and others assess the rate of progress and whether additional actions are required. In future, some indicators could be linked to accreditation or incentive schemes to reward sustainable practices.
Researchers, industry sectors and government must work together to develop these common definitions and measurements, and they must be designed with farmers in mind, to promote buy-in and innovation. This work is in progress, initiated by the Register of Land Management Actions research programme for the Our Land and Water National Science Challenge (due to complete: June 2022).
A fit-for-purpose national water quality monitoring and assessment network is required to make it possible to measure improvement in water quality and attribute this to on-farm actions. New water quality monitoring networks and technologies will be needed, as the current network is not able to detect targeted improvement from specific on-farm actions.
Good quality spatial data will also help develop and improve water quality models that can predict change at a lower cost and level of monitoring.
A skilled network of professionals is required to deliver national FEP coverage in time to meet policy objectives. We need people qualified to work with farmers to prepare individualised, evidence-based, holistic plans. We also need people trained to certify and independently audit those plans, skilled catchment coordinators and data collectors, and regional networks. This requires investment in workforce training and professional development.
Any shortage of capacity and capability to deliver FEPs will need to be managed – for example, by classifying and prioritising catchments according to their value and risk.
Collaborative partnerships must be nurtured between professionals who prepare plans, those who independently audit them, and the farmers responsible for their day-to-day implementation. This will require national and regional level investment to thrive and deliver results, and will take time. Partnership offers credibility, empowers farmers with the confidence to act, and will contribute to more robust and effective FEPs.
A national repository is needed to compile on-farm action data and water quality improvement across sectors, and report at national and catchment scale. The information captured will be of wide public interest, and care must be taken concerning privacy to ensure trust and uptake of FEPs is not eroded. The Register of Land Management Actions research programme for the Our Land and Water National Science Challenge is leading this work (due to complete: June 2022).
National or regional regulation may be required so that objectives and actions at the farm-scale can be prioritised. They might also aid with any trade-offs between multiple objectives that need to be clarified and aggregated at larger scales (at the catchment scale for water quality, and nationally for greenhouse gas emissions). If we are unable to effectively do this, we might fail to make decisions or take action due to uncertainty.
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