NZ Farmsure

October 2005
Bill Ritchie is a Central Hawkes Bay sheep and beef farmer who is managing director of Horizon Farming Ltd, a farming company of 3300ha and four family entities. He is also Chairman of NZ Farmsure. Kris August, is Executive Director of the programme.

NZ Farmsure is a voluntary scheme for farmers to understand and manage their resources better. It is a best-practice approach, with inputs from rural professionals such as vets, soil scientists, farm mappers, fertiliser companies and farm advisers.

The principle is to have standards of food safety, animal welfare and sustainable resource management which can be defended in all markets and at home, before regulatory authorities or customers impose new standards on producers.

NZ Farmsure is a farm management package developed by farmers for farmers with profitability in focus. It builds on other farm assurance programmes and is not exclusive.

Their Mission Statement is to achieve a principle of food safety, animal welfare and sustainable resource management that is defendable throughout the world.

In January 2001 Project Green was initiated to develop a minimum (voluntary) principle for sustained production of sheep, beef, deer and goat farms. The principle for 'sustainability-based' supply builds on conventional (or base) farm assurance requirements. The three key outcomes sought in the development of the principle were: enhanced production, demonstrated sustainability, and potential for market reward for product. The project has involved over 50 farmers from Hawke's Bay, Manawatu, Taranaki, King Country, Waikato and Bay of Plenty.

In addition to farmer input, land managers from six Regional Councils have also been involved in the development of the 'land and environmental' component of the principle, along with an AgResearch Soil and Environmental Scientist. A commercial veterinarian was also heavily involved in the development of the 'animal' component of the principle.

It was agreed from the start that the input from farmers was crucial in the development of the on-farm specifications. It was also agreed that to be credible, the principles would require of an audit system with independent verification. Aligning NZ Farmsure with other primary industry sectors is seen as a necessary part of the long-term plan. The principles revolve around three plans: the Animal Management Plan; Land and Environment Plan; and Social Responsibility Plan. These plans were developed in collaboration with the 50 farmers across a 2 year period from January 2001 to June 2003. As part of the project, 30 farmers have developed a set of draft plans for their own farms.

A supply capability based on sustainability principles must consider economic, environmental and social aspects of production. Conditions for supply are based on factual information with a scientific basis where practical. However, consumer views and perceptions on acceptable practice are considered and are adopted where proven to be important. The principles build on farm assurance for conventional supply, which includes animal welfare and food safety requirements. Integrated management between animal livestock species, animal age groups and/or through cropping/pasture rotation is encouraged as an effective means of reducing challenge from pests. Overall, chemical intervention is minimised by application of the management plan strategies including adherence to a demonstrated need principle.

The principle builds on base farm assurance (food safety and animal welfare) and is voluntary for sheep, beef cattle, deer and goat farmers. It is based on best-practice farming and accordingly enhances farm production, provides future-proofing of the farming business, and demonstrates that we are in fact 'clean and green' by providing the basis for an internationally recognised Quality Assurance (QA) system.

Other features of the principle include:

Triple Bottom Line (TBL) reporting of economic, environmental and social aspects of production.

Meeting the requirements of the Resource Management Act regulations with practical and acceptable solutions, thereby avoiding the risk that sustainability principles will be imposed on us by central government.

The opportunity to negotiate 'equivalence' with our trading partners, rather than having to accept conditions of supply that do not reflect New Zealand's farming systems.

Maintaining a competitive position with other countries (eg, Australia, UK, etc) that are also developing sustainability programmes with the full support of their governments and associated industry agencies.

With the positive feedback from farmers implementing NZ Farmsure on their properties, the organisers are confident this does present a workable set of principles to address any future market requirements, while at the same time encouraging farmers to plan their business with the issue of sustainability in mind.

Farmers have been involved in setting up the programme from the beginning, which has been very important to ensure the principles do relate to New Zealand farming conditions and are practical.

The Management Plans implemented appropriately have the ability to enhance production and future-proof the farm business.

Many farmers will already be farming to these principles, but perhaps not be formalising their practices to the level of NZ Farmsure and that required by the market place. So the implementation of this programme will not require a large cost to begin.

Actions are more likely to be taken if written down as part of a plan. NZ Farmsure is not 'rocket science' but in fact is just a process for formalising best practices.

NZ farmers need to be proactive in addressing anticipated market requirements relating to sustainable farm production and promoting our 'clean green' image, which should not be taken for granted.

The practice and value of sustainable farming needs to be promoted and reinforced at an international level as well as on a national level, as urban perceptions of farming are often misinformed or clouded by media coverage of so-called 'dirty farming' practice. Urban views do have the potential to influence the markets we are trying to access.

If farmers are seen to be addressing sustainability issues themselves, they can limit any unnecessary compliance and RMA costs being imposed from a National and Regional level.

To manage animals in a production system that sustain performance and profit and ensures the care and welfare of animals. Animals that are well fed and managed are less prone to disease and pest challenge and therefore likely to have a reduced need for medicine intervention. The treatment of animals with medicines is therefore based on identifying and documenting a demonstrated need. Animal welfare covers feeding, shade and shelter and stock handling. Animal health covers disease and nutrition. Pasture only feeding must be practiced and a documented feed plan must demonstrate the animals are well fed for the coming year.

Soils are to be protected against physical damage, declining organic matter, nutrient depletion and loss by erosion. Water quality is principally addressed through erosion control, stream-bank protection and vegetation and animal management. The soil resource is protected through the matching of the farming enterprise with Land Use Capability units, at a paddock scale. Including indigenous flora and fauna management as an enhancement to biodiversity.

Issue covered by the plan are:

Soil health erosion, chemical use, nutrient balance, contaminated sites, physical condition.

Water quality stream health, stock water supply, fertiliser use, contaminations.

Shelter and shade trees and hedges.

Pasture pests & weeds, legume content, trace elements.

Biodiversity native bush and wetlands, indigenous wildlife, vista, exotic vegetation and animals.

Biosecurity animal and plant pests. Insect pests, TB and other pathogens.

Greenhouse gases gas budget.

To maintain a vibrant farming environment and positive future outlook by committing to the care of the people in employment, the local community and heritage. Includes staff training, commitment to sustainable development, community support and service, promotion of sustainable management and heritage sites of significance.

Farmers need to belong to the Project Green Charitable Trust ($50pa) to be eligible to undertake a NZ Farmsure programme. Other costs include perhaps $3000 for a Land and Environment Management Plan for a 400 to 500ha property, with input from mapping services, soil scientists and farm consultants

NZ Farmsure now has a software package to guide farmers through the programme and to store the records of compliance. It costs $500.

For more info see: