Saturday, December 9, 2023

Blanket rules won’t fix water

Avatar photo
Farmers want clean waterways and need to be actively engaged at ground level if freshwater quality is to be improved, Whanganui farmer Mike Cranstone says.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Cranstone, a member of the recently formed Whangaehu/Mangawhero river catchment group, said farmers in his and similar groups are making good progress understanding issues specific to their areas and are coming up with strategies and actions to reduce their impact on waterways.

They are proud of their progress and achievements made.

“It would be a shame to lose that by having blanket rules and denting the enthusiasm of farmers by saying they are doing it wrong.”

Farmers are results based and like to see outcomes.

“New Zealand farmers are the best in the world at innovation – give them a problem and they will come up with a solution, whether that’s through management techniques or adopting technology.”

Farmers working together in groups to address local environmental issues are more likely to find the best outcomes by targeting solutions to specific problems than by being forced to follow a blanket approach.

What will work in one catchment will not necessarily work in another.

“Every area has its own soil types and mix of agriculture and horticulture. Every waterway has its own characteristics.”

The Whangaehu/Mangawhero catchment group was formed earlier this year.

An initial public meeting attracted 65 farmers, along with half a dozen apologies, which meant 85% of the targeted catchment, an area of about 200,000ha, was represented at the meeting.

The group is targeting the river’s lower and mid reaches, the Whangaehu flood plain up to the mid reaches of the hill country.

The farmers involved want to understand what the main water quality issues are and what areas farms need to focus on to reduce their impact.

Sediment is the number one focus, with a high proportion of the catchment high-risk hill country.

Committee member Rob Craig described catchment groups as where science and practical farming come together to produce positive outcomes.

It’s about transferring knowledge and targeted outcomes for each catchment to solutions farmers can implement.

The aim is to get farmers thinking about their environmental footprint throughout their day-to-day management, just like they do with pasture quality, stock management and a whole lot of other pieces of the puzzle, every day.

For that to happen it has to be a positive experience and progress and achievements have to be celebrated to maintain motivation.

“Farmers are proud of what they achieve on their farms, whether it is how the property looks or their stock. They want to leave things in better shape for the next generation.”

He acknowledges his group is probably about five years behind in addressing the challenges but members are committed to making improvements.

“Our challenge is to get the regulators to trust us and have confidence that farmers are focused on this, to recognise farmers and to work with individual farmers.

“We have to show that we are engaged and we are walking the walk.

“Hopefully, science can highlight that we are making progress. We are turning around water quality.”

However, it’s not just about farmers, the whole community needs to be involved.

“Whether that’s the local school potentially growing some native plants or getting involved in the planting or incorporating water quality monitoring in their maths and science curriculum.”

It is also important to involve the recreational users of waterways so everyone is engaged and working towards a common goal.

Cranstone can understand public scepticism about to the ability of a catchment group to put pressure on farmers to comply with water quality goals but he is confident it can be done.

“Peer pressure is very effective. 

“Farmers are the best ones to motivate their neighbours to do things.”

It is often underestimated how many on-farm decisions are a result of farmers looking over their fence and seeing what their neighbour is doing.

“Nobody likes being the last one on the bus. And for those that are, well that’s where the stick is needed.”

He said 80% of progress is often down to making small changes, by having farmers focused on targeted outcomes.

“It’s the small things that farmers do every day that will achieve the best outcomes.”

People are also reading