Farmer leaders from New Zealand’s sheep and beef sector have shared a range of stories, highlighting the steady progress the sector is making on environmental management issues.
Sixty five farmers from around the country have been in Wellington to discuss the initiatives underway to improve environmental performance – and specifically to enhance catchment outcomes.
“Those at the conference were some of New Zealand’s most environmentally pro-active farmers and they represent the momentum gathering with farmers across the country,” Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ Ltd) chief executive Sam McIvor says.
This is the third environment conference B+LNZ has run and it’s a response to farmers looking for more help to support good environmental management on their farms. This has seen the organisation increase its capability with seven full-time staff supporting farmers, including advocacy on issues relating to environmental management.
McIvor told the conference farmers understand that their management of the environment is a key ingredient of their business and they know they are custodians of the land.
“They also accept there are environmental challenges and finding solutions is as important for the sector as it is for rural communities, the wider New Zealand population and our trading partners and consumers.
“Since 1990, there has been a remarkable journey of environmental progress. Sheep and beef farmers have driven major efficiency gains – increasing lambing percentages by 25 percent and the lamb weight weaned by ewes by 93 percent. What’s more impressive is that farmers have achieved this with 23 percent less land.
“We estimate that about one million hectares (ha) of steeper country is either retired or planted in trees while a further million ha of high quality land has been converted to dairy. With this efficiency drive it’s estimated that greenhouse gas emissions from the sheep and beef sector has decreased by 19 percent.”
McIvor said he believed while sheep and beef farmers are focused on being profitable and confident about the future, they are also focused on meeting their responsibilities to the land and community.
“We’re building tools and resources to support them with environmental management, measurement and reporting, while taking into account the many environmental issues that are specific to farms, catchments and regions.”
B+LNZ environment programme manager Matt Harcombe said the conference was about continuing to build leadership capability and capacity in the sector.
“We’re building momentum through connecting the elements of successful projects across the country that are making a real difference to the way farms and farmers interact with our environment.”
Another message that came through loud and clear was the importance of retaining the ‘social licence’ to farm – that is, the public perception that allows a company or industry to operate.
“There are some incredible people doing amazing things across the country and that’s a great story that farmers should be proud of. There is always more to do and we need to work hard together to understand what the expectations of New Zealanders are, where our priorities are and to ensure we have the right information and right resources in the right places to make good long-1616term decisions,” Harcombe said.