Commitment to change lifts environmental audit grades

A willingness to proactively improve farming practices has seen 89 percent of Waimakariri Irrigation Limited (WIL) shareholders achieve an A or B Farm Environment Plan (FEP) audit during the 2018/19 season, an increase of 21 percent from 2016/17. Meanwhile, C audit grades have decreased from 28 percent in the 2016/17 season to 9 percent in 2018/19, while just one farm received a D audit grade.

About FEPs

FEPs help farmers recognise and manage on farm environmental risks. Once the plan is in place, an independent audit is carried out to check how the risks are being managed, and how Good Management Practices (GMPs) are being applied to minimise the impact on water quality.

Environmental consultant Paul Reese, who has been managing the FEP and audit process for WIL since its inception, has noticed a large change in mindset over the last five years.

“Everyone has made significant progress, with most WIL shareholders now achieving an A or B audit grade,” he said. “Almost all landowners are aiming for the highest level, and they’re very pro-active about making changes on farm to improve their score.

“For me, the focus has been on helping those with a C or D grade move up to a B or an A grade. Only one farm received a D grade, which was a result of changes that a new owner had made to a feeding pad. The farm will be re-audited soon and we expect it to move.

“WIL has been really proactive about identifying issues and acting quickly to work with farmers in order to make the required improvements.”

Technology partner

Paul says the two largest challenges for landowners have been effluent management and irrigation, but that the introduction of a partnership with software provider Regen has enabled farmers to make irrigation decisions backed by hard data.

“Nearly everyone is hooked up to Regen. The data that is collected gives farmers daily recommendations on whether to irrigate via an app.

“When it comes to effluent it’s a matter of the correct collection, storage and application.”

Aiming for A 

Paul has witnessed a huge shift as the audit process has changed from an unknown concept to something that farmers understand, and actively engage with, as they prepare documentation and meet him on farm. He says there’s plenty of kudos for those who receive an A grade.

“The farmers really strive for it and take a lot of notice of what’s happening on their farm, and neighbouring properties. It’s an intense process and you get to home in on areas where you are doing well and others where you might need to make some changes.

“Landowners are taking action to make sure that they play their part and there’s a real willingness and desire to get things right. They’re actively engaged with the FEP process right through to the audit stage where we’re seeing them take action to improve their environmental performance.

“The ultimate goal is to have all shareholders at an A or B grade level and we’re making good progress towards achieving this result.”

Andrew Arps, Northern Zone Manager for Environment Canterbury, says he was pleased to see these results coming through from WIL. “It’s encouraging to see the continuous improvement in farming practices reflected in audit grades and environmental gains,” he said.

Pictured above: Eyrewell farmer Scott Evans (right) chats with environmental consultant Paul Reese during a Farm Environment Plan audit. Scott has received A and B audit grades for his farms.