Land and Environment Planning Toolkit

May 2015

Helping farmers integrate good environmental practice with their farm systems

Erica van Reenen has been appointed to the newly created position of National Environmental Extension Manager for Beef+Lamb New Zealand, to help farmers integrate good environmental management into business-as-usual farming practices. The role was established in early 2014 recognising the importance of natural resource management to farmers and to ensure there is adequate information, tools and services available for farmers to make informed decisions.

The spotlight on the dairy industry as regards its environmental practices is now shifting to sheep and beef farms, which have the greatest proportion of farmland in NZ. Erica van Reenan believes the sheep and beef sector has about five years to get its act together for issues such as water use and quality, climate change adaptation and biodiversity. The best way to get action from farmers is to show them how good environmental practices can help them make money and save time, she believes.

Erica won an AGMARDT Leadership Award to participate in the 2012 Kellogg Rural Leaders Programme. Her topic was the increasing uptake of environmental practices on sheep and beef farms. As part of her research she interviewed sheep and beef farmers in Waikato and Bay of Plenty on their environmental practices and the reasons behind their decisions to invest in things like riparian planting and fencing. Finding out the motivations for making investment in environmental best practice is key to how the industry and farmers will change in the future. “Talking to people and finding out what drives them to make them change will help with the rest of my work. I now have a more in depth understanding of what drives the people I’m working with,” she told the Country-Wide magazine. Rick Burke was one of those farmers included in her Kellogg project.

Erica was brought up in Central Otago and went to Massey for a science degree majoring in agriculture, incorporating ecology, conservation and natural resource papers.

The key resource for managing resources efficiently and effectively is the Land and Environment Planning (LEP) Toolkit. Erica works with the extension team to ensure farmers are receiving a quality product when they attend an LEP workshop. Along with others, she has trained over 20 specialists around the country to facilitate the workshops and in the 2013/14 year, over 30 Level 1 workshops were delivered to over 400 farmers. The next 12 months will see Level 2 workshops begin. Beef+Lamb New Zealand will also be working with regional councils around the role of whole farm plans in meeting limits which Erica will be involved with.

Each of the eight extension managers across the country will be running a new extension programme in their area that will have a specific environmental focus. These programmes are all different and will be largely focused on promoting best practice for the whole farm system, including the environment and demonstrating to other farmers how this can be achieved. Erica has been working closely with the extension team to establish these programmes and is looking forward to seeing them operational.

She will examine the resources available to farmers and how they are presented. It is important that farmers are given the right information in the right way and it is tempting to provide long, detailed reports without any practical messaging. Beef+Lamb New Zealand strives to provide information in a way that farmers are able to use and this will be the case for environmental management also. As an example, there is now a one-page resource for most regions outlining what support the regional council will provide to sheep and beef farmers to assist them on-farm. This is a quick reference source for farmers and will hopefully help councils develop a strong working relationship with farmers in their regions.