Waikato farm advisor Rob Macnab has been working closely with King Country River Care, facilitating FEP workshops and says it may be a catchment-driven approach that defines plan development.
The group, comprising 300 drystock farmers, recently received $844,000 from the Government to work on improving freshwater quality and adjusting farming practices.
The group has been increasingly regarded as a benchmark for farmer groups seeking a way forward through regulations using farm environment planning.
“At the moment, there are a lot of people jostling in this space, with good intentions but not always the best outcomes for farmers. It is almost as though we are trying to change jockeys in the middle of the horse race – farmers are on board, but are being told they have to change,” Macnab said
He is confident more clarity around FEP sourcing and implementing will develop in coming months, but is urging farmers to stand up and be clear about what their plans should look like, and how they come together.
“The King Country River Care group is the best I have seen so far. It is one where farmers are saying ‘this is what we want for our area’,” he said.
He is urging professionals and industry groups to go back and talk to farmer groups, and be guided by them.
“Otherwise farmers will get something designed by a committee,” he said.
He believes there will ultimately be certified FEP providers who are able to provide an approved version of a FEP, without it necessarily being a fixed template.
“A certified FEP provider could have the ability to allow for what farmer groups need, and as long as the FEP meets regulatory requirements, it could be used,” he said.
He expects the farmer groups may be defined on a catchment basis, but acknowledges this may cut across industry group efforts to formulate a plan.
“But what works in Waikato will not work in Southland. It is not heresy to challenge the industry groups’ work, but they may have to become quite nimble in how they respond to what farmers need,” he said.
AgFirst director James Allen says at present the FEP situation has become frustrating and complex.
“There is a lot of confusion around the plans and it risks causing some inertia among farmers who may want to get an FEP done,” he said.
He says it was now well accepted a FEP would be required, but the devil was in the details around aspects of slope, fencing and wintering, for example.
“This is causing uncertainty. But on the flip side, we are encouraged by the efforts being made by processors, including Fonterra, Miraka and Tatua. They have been chipping away. Their plans offer a good base to start from,” he said.
He was confident any additional FEP requirements could be worked into these plans.
Hey says there also seems to be widespread support for a catchment process and that they are in support of that approach.
Canterbury consultant Charlotte Glass says her company’s approach under the region’s Land and Water Plan has been to develop a customised plan for each client.
“If you have a property that requires a consent, then usually FEPs are scheduled under that consent, so no matter what else we provide it has to comply with that (Land and Water Plan),” she said.
She says it was vital to any FEP and its requirements were recognised as only one part of the entire farm system.
She maintained most Canterbury farmers were accepting of FEPs, having operated under numerous plan changes over the years.
“But in Southland, it is all a bit new. But it also comes down to the way you ask someone to do a job, that makes a difference,” she said.
“I think most of our farmers right now are just experiencing some issues about the way they are being engaged with, that’s what they don’t like.
“After all, the primary industry strategy for the past 100 years has been production focused and now they are being asked to turn it into an environmental focus.
“They just seek a bit more understanding that the direction has been changed on them.”
She challenged the Government to make the funding that was tagged for helping farmers to transition more readily accessible.
Farm consultants have confirmed that behind the scenes government officials are working on developing a standardised approach to FEPs and a certification process is being developed for rural professionals to sign off on FEPs.