Rural Advocacy Network chairman Jamie McFadden was a key speaker at the recent round of Groundswell NZ meetings. He spoke about the push for Farm Environment Plans (FEPs) and why these may not be the great cure-all many are claiming. Here is an edited version of the speech...
“It adds value to the farm plan,” she explains. “You see things above ground on farm and think ‘that could be important’ but using OverseerFM enables you to also ‘look’ at what is below ground and capture anything you may have missed.”
McDonald, who works for Agribusiness Consultants Ltd, has recently completed a FEP for Pam Brock and her son Jason, who farm dairy cattle – mainly Friesian – over 311 ha at Wallacetown, near Invercargill.
Brook says using OverseerFM has helped support decisions about changes they plan to make to the farm and will also inform future planning.
“We wanted a plan to see how we are doing now and compare that with what we could do, to improve our farming practices towards a better environment,” she says.
“We are alongside a river and have a major creek running through the farm.
Good environmental practice has always been very important to us, but with everything that is happening in farming, there is an increased awareness.”
McDonald says she uses OverseerFM with clients for a variety of reasons, including FEPs.
“I’ve been using it in reports ahead of farm sales. It is now more common for potential buyers to want to know about issues such as nutrient leaching and GHG emissions. With that and with FEPs, it helps with planning. When you go around a farm, you can see mud or no mud, or grass or no grass but you can’t see nutrient loss,” she explains.
“Many of my clients want to run scenarios using OverseerFM to see where their farm system is going. For instance, Pam and Jason are changing the land use in some areas and it was useful for them to know where there would be more run off, less run off or if it wouldn’t make much difference.”
Pam Brock says the process was very simple.
“Allison drove around the farm. We gave her a map, with all the hazards marked and things like the size of paddocks. She added in information such as where we have trees and drainage and we provided other details, such as what we have done and plan to do with winter crops,” she says.
“She then drew up the plan and nutrient budget and that has helped us to see where we are doing well and where we could make improvements. Some things we were already planning to do and it helped confirm that for us and will also help us make further decisions.”
The Brocks are in the process of changing their winter cropping regime.
“We have 750 cows, all wintered on the farm and have been feeding solely fodder beet for years,” she explains. “This year, we have put the heifers on kale and are looking at the possibility of a variation of winter crops or moving away from fodder beet altogether.”
McDonald says that for some farmers, the information gained through running OverseerFM scenarios is helping them make decisions now for requirements that will come into force in several years’ time.
“For instance, I worked with a farm that needs to work towards a nitrogen loss limit of 30 kgN/ha. It was eye opening for them to see what that was going to look like for their farm system.”
She says this helps farmers to plan what they will do for the future and how they can start taking steps to make their business more resilient now, rather than waiting two to five years.
“For instance, if people see they are going to have to drop stock numbers, they might decide to start paying off more debt now.”