Barber’s Wire: Ambitious environment strategy key to meeting customer demands

Allan Barber

Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s environment strategy, launched last month, has the vision for sheep and beef farmers to become ‘world-leading stewards of the natural environment and sustainable communities,’ notes Allan Barber.

The strategy’s four areas of focus – cleaner water, carbon neutrality, thriving biodiversity and healthy productive soils – each have specific goals, supported by a detailed plan for implementation by 2022. The goals are for farmers to improve freshwater quality, move towards carbon neutrality by 2050, provide habitats that support biodiversity and protect our natural species, and improve soil health and productivity while minimising soil loss.

The main challenge for B+LNZ is to gain the commitment of all its levy payers to sign up to work towards these goals and the strategy states how it proposes to do this. Its modus operandi will be to start with the individual farmer, equipping them with the knowledge, tools and incentives to manage their resources and make the necessary changes. The next step will be to broaden the scale of the programme by providing expert support to help farmers work with a wider catchment of stakeholders in their community. The third component will be the involvement of customers and the broader New Zealand community in working together to share problems, identify opportunities and implement solutions.

The key starting point of the environment strategy is the Land and Environment Plan (LEP) for each farm. B+LNZ is refreshing its current LEP programme to widen the scope of environmental issues it will cover (including carbon and biodiversity) and will be providing increased support for farmers to implement plans.  B+LNZ is also looking at how it can integrate the farm plans with the New Zealand Farm Assurance Programme (NZFAP).

Although farmers may be reluctant about completing yet another plan (in addition to regional councils’ FEP, NZFAP, Health and Safety plan and others), about 40 percent of sheep and beef farmers are estimated to have the equivalent of an LEP already, even if it is not specifically recorded as such.

While it seems logical to work towards merging two or more of the plans, at present each one has a specific purpose: Regional Council FEPs are specific to the issues in each region and are more about compliance than an LEP, the NZFAP provides assurance to customers about origin, product integrity, animal welfare, traceability and biosecurity as well as environmental sustainability, whereas the focus of the LEP is on farm management and resource allocation for the best environmental outcomes.

Inevitably there will be elements where one plan’s requirements will overlap with another’s, but it will be important to ensure the minimum overlap while covering all the critical elements. The objective is ultimately the integration of FEP, LEP and NZFAP to streamline the compliance processes and provide the opportunity for financial reward for farmers who are operating above base requirements.

B+LNZ’s Environment Strategy document has the stated goal of every farm having its own active LEP in operation by the end of 2021 which is an ambitious target and will place great responsibility on both individual farmers to commit and on B+LNZ to provide farm planning workshops support through the Red Meat Profit Partnership’s Action Network.

North Canterbury farmer, James Hoban, tells me he is very pleased to see B+LNZ providing leadership on environmental issues because it is important to make a commitment as a sector to justify New Zealand’s claims about natural farming. He believes, while sheep and beef farmers are already managing their farm environments well, it is important to document what they are doing; but he suspects it will require clear leadership and encouragement to ensure the majority actually adheres to the documentation requirement. His view is it would have been radical 10 years ago, but today it should be business as usual. He says, “It’s just part of farming now, though we aren’t the only businesses facing more paperwork. We have to be proactive on environmental issues and I think the strategy is one of the best things B+LNZ has done in recent years.”

Andrew Morrison, B+LNZ chair, says it plays to our strengths for New Zealand to be able to demonstrate to our markets the uniqueness of our pasture-based farming systems and very soft environmental footprint. Sheep and beef farmers must have documented systems which meet customer expectations and, although he feels most farmers are 90 percent there, they may not have recorded them yet. This is where B+LNZ’s role to drive behavioural change comes in.

The virtually simultaneous launch of the Environment Strategy and the Red Meat Story is not entirely coincidental, because it is obviously very important for the red meat sector to back its country of origin brand campaign with a strong environmental backstory. The claims that underpin Taste Pure Nature – wide open spaces with lush green grass for animals to graze, a gentle climate and the light touch of the natural environment – place demands on all sheep and beef farmers to demonstrate environmentally sustainable business practices that are applied to the production of New Zealand beef and lamb.

At a time when climate change and biosecurity incursions are presenting increased challenges to our farmers and the country as a whole, it is reassuring to see B+LNZ step up to assume a true leadership role for the meat industry. All farmers owe it to each other to make sure they get in behind these initiatives.

Allan Barber is a meat industry commentator. He has his own blog Barber’s Meaty Issues and can be contacted by emailing him at allan@barberstrategic.co.nz.

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