Milk company Open Country Dairy is connecting the Farm Action Prioritisation Tool (FarmAPT) with over 1000 dairy farmer suppliers, supporting them to identify and prioritise mitigation actions for water quality improvement for inclusion in farm environment plans (FEPs).
FarmAPT is an online geospatial tool developed by DairyNZ, led by senior scientist Dr Katrina Macintosh, and co-funded by the Our Land and Water Rural Professionals Fund in 2020. The project team identified an opportunity to link farmers to the most relevant mitigation options for their farm, underpinned by science, to support the development of effective and targeted FEPs. This will boost farmers’ confidence in their FEPs, therefore accelerating change.
The uptake of prioritised mitigation actions on farmland to help improve water quality is critical to the Our Land and Water objective. The actions in the tool are informed by three Our Land and Water-funded journal papers and have been aligned to support the required ‘good farming practices’ actions under the Dairy Tomorrow strategy.
The FarmAPT tool helps its users identify the best water quality mitigation actions for their farm, at the least cost. It achieves this by weighting the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of a range of evidence-backed actions for reducing nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment, and E. coli. FarmAPT prioritises mitigation actions based on each farm’s geophysical characteristics, using the dairy typology framework that incorporates climate, slope, soil/drainage, and wetness, developed by Our Land and Water’s Sources & Flows and DairyNZ’s Healthy Waterways research programmes. These typologies are important for determining which mitigations will be most effective in reducing contaminants.
FarmAPT also displays the location of the nearest downstream regional council water quality monitoring data, so users can understand their catchment pressures and hence the need for collective action to address freshwater issues.
Open Country Dairy has created a comprehensive digital FEP interface that incorporates FarmAPT via an API wholly funded by DairyNZ. This ‘wizard’ is used by Open Country’s FEP facilitators, and directly by farmers.
The wizard consists of an 11-step process that results in a complete FEP. Step 2, ‘Catchment Context’, pulls water quality monitoring data from FarmAPT. A full list of prioritised risk mitigation actions is pulled from FarmAPT into Step 3, ‘Waterways’. Relevant actions are also pulled from the API into a section entitled ‘Other actions you may wish to consider’ in each of Steps 5, 6 and 8 (‘Infrastructure’, ‘Blocks’ and ‘Land & Soil’).
Open Country environment and sustainability manager Dr Caleb Higham says the wizard was two years in development and aims to “make FEPs as painless for farmers as we can”. The company hopes to add risk mitigation actions for greenhouses gases in the future. The wizard has been used to complete FEPs for 371 dairy farmers, and a further 630 FEPs are in progress.
The Open Country wizard was developed by Qconz, which has also integrated FarmAPT into its own FreshWater Farm Plan digital tool. This paid service ($200pa) is being used by around 100 farmers and growers in the sheep, beef and horticulture sectors. Qconz anticipates significant growth, expecting to reach over 1000 users by mid-2024, says Justin Moss, GM of information technology at Qconz.
The FarmAPT API is also integrated into Fonterra’s Tiaki FEP Tool, an employee-facing geospatial tool used by 45 Sustainable Dairying Advisors to develop FEPs for their dairy farmers. The catchment context section of these FEPs is automatically populated with the water quality monitoring data provided via FarmAPT. This partial use of FarmAPT supports the development of FEPs that respond to the catchment context.
DairyNZ is planning to publicly launch FarmAPT as an open-access, farmer-facing tool on its website once the interface is fully functional. Ongoing development of the tool functionality will align water quality mitigation actions with actions to reduce GHGs, to support farmers to act on water and climate requirements and make decisions based on a better understanding of co-benefits.
Zespri has also requested that elements of FarmAPT be integrated into its freshwater-FEP software solution in development by Qconz, where it has the potential to reach 3000 growers. This tool will be in a pilot phase across 100 Waikato orchards in 2023–24.
Our Land and Water’s focused Rural Professionals Fund was created to connect farm advisors, farmers and scientists in collaborative practical research. This unique funding approach enabled the development of the practical FarmAPT tool, which expands access to research previously funded by Our Land and Water.
This article was originally submitted to MBIE as an impact case study as part of Our Land and Water's 2022–23 annual reporting.