Ensuring a business remains viable must be the priority but farmers can start adopting environmental measures that cost nothing or very little, such as care in the timing of autumn nitrogen application.
Farming will undergo significant change in the next decade, even more so when the Action for Healthy Waterways plan is implemented, he said.
In the south of the South Island the new water plan rules and measures, to be introduced once a Government taskforce on wintering livestock reports, are likely to significantly alter how stock are wintered.
“Once the dust settles on the wintering task force and water quality, farming systems in the south could be quite different.”
To meet likely new rules, such as ensuring cows have a dry area to lie down, could mean investing in loafing pads or dry areas, a cost that might convince some specialist winter grazers to leave the industry.
The new rules could also create a multi-tiered land market based on environmental factors.
That could mean discounted values for light, leachy soils that can’t handle high stocking rates and heavy soils prone to sediment run-off.
Wilson says the Government’s proposed one-size-fits-all freshwater quality proposals do not take account of the features of catchments, soil or weather and penalise farmers who have minimised their environmental footprint.
Farmers should start looking at environmental risks on their properties and could introduce steps that are not costly, such as care in selecting paddocks for winter cropping, how winter crops are fed, the timing of fertiliser application and using direct drills for seed.
Farm environment plans, while likely to be compulsory, will focus on managing areas where there are environmental risks.
But Wilson warns of the need to be careful about what is promised in those plans, such as vowing to shift a silage stack by a certain date, because farmers could be held accountable.