Agrilink director Andrew Barber, who is working with Vegetables NZ and HortNZ to encourage growers to develop plans, has been running a series of workshops in Levin to explain their benefits. Workshops are also being held in Pukekohe.
But there are a range of drawbacks applying Overseer to vegetable production.
“In its current form Overseer won’t work for vegetables and councils could penalise vegetable growers unfairly if they continue to reference its output limits in consent outcomes.”
It does not properly allow for short-term rotation crops going in and out of paddocks that are a feature of many market gardens while it relies too much on calendar and weather averages driven.
“You never have an average season with weather,” Barber said.
Rather than focus on problems with Overseer Barber says growers are better off making changes to their farming practices by following industry-led standards, which will result in reduced leaching whether Overseer models show it or not.
The models might catch up in the future but changes need to be made now and having a farm environment plan is a good way to achieve them.
The five workshops provided growers with a step-by-step process to reduce soil loss and erosion as well as reduce inputs like water and nutrients through the use of the plans.
The idea is for grower plans to be bolted on to the good agricultural practices programme many are already part of because it provides a ready-made framework, a system of checklists to base templates on and third-party auditing.
Barber says after attending the workshops, which will likely be also run in other regions, most growers should be able to create their own plans.
He expects them to be part of every type of farming business in the future.
“Farm environment plans won’t guarantee getting resource consent but not having one will guarantee you won’t.”
Though the plans are property specific, with tailored controls taking into account soil types and angles of slopes in paddocks, they include generic information covering topics like irrigation and nutrient management.
About three-quarters of growers around Levin attended the workshops, which he says shows their commitment to caring for the land.
“It also sends a clear message to central and regional government that growers are taking action to improve water quality and the state of our land.
“They just need a bit of time to consolidate the improvements.”
Te Horo vegetable grower Andrew Jung, who attended all but one of the workshops, says whether they like it or not vegetable and fruit growers better get used to the idea of having a plan because he expects they will soon be compulsory for anyone working the land.
“There’ll be no choice if you want to continue gardening.”
Jung, who grows fennel and celeriac on about 16ha, says when developing a plan it’s important growers are realistic and don’t include impossible goals because they will be held to them.
The speed of the plans’ uptake by growers remains to be seen but supermarkets might have a say in that.
If they decide to buy only from growers with approved plans then growers will come on board pretty quickly.
“When it affects their livelihood people will change. It won’t take long.”
Barber says the plans will enable growers to charge a premium for their produce to discerning customers because they will be able to provide evidence they use best practice but Jung is not convinced.
“It’s all very well telling the story but at the end of the day people will still want cheap vegetables.”