New Zealand farmers are being confronted by the need to improve multiple environmental outcomes while still returning a profit. How the primary sector continues to evolve to deliver sustainable returns for farmers responding to increasing environmental pressures, is one of the defining challenges of our time and the focus of this Nuffield research.
The purpose of this study was to investigate tools to facilitate optimisation of farm systems and improve sustainable outcomes in New Zealand agriculture.
The main recommendations to come from this study include:
(1) Farm Environmental Planning should be prioritised, appropriately resourced and supported as a primary means to drive sustainable outcomes in New Zealand agriculture. Critical to this are a number of enabling components:
- Farm Environment Plans (FEPs) should seek holistic objectives – considering environmental, economic as well as social and cultural aspects. Within this, environmental considerations should be broader than often articulated, considering traditional aspects relating to water quality and soil conservation, as well as indigenous biodiversity, ecosystem services and greenhouse gas emissions at farm and catchment scale.
- Investment from industry as well as regional and central government should be aligned to aid in the design, delivery and implementation of FEPs and farmer support via targeted environmental stewardship incentives should be explored.
- To encourage innovation and farmer aspiration, FEPs should be enabled outside of regulation, with processors (e.g. meat, wool, milk companies) and industry bodies taking a leading role as well as providing a link to market and the consumer.
- Farmers should be linked with trusted advisors who are able to provide ongoing, tailored and farm specific advice prioritising long term outcomes and farmer investments as part of the FEP.
(2) Sustainable Management Practices (SMPs) should be promoted and supported to help provide farmers with clarity regarding on-farm management.
- SMPs should be developed in collaboration with a wide group of stakeholders (e.g. farmers, industry, regional councils, government, iwi and environmental NGOs) where possible to ensure wide support and collective buy-in.
- Implementation guidelines for SMPs should recognise the dynamic and varied New Zealand farming context.
(3) Climate Smart Agriculture should be socialised by the New Zealand agricultural industry as a valuable component of farm environmental planning – prioritising the ‘triple win’ of increasing productivity, enhancing resilience to the effects of climate, as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
(4) New Zealand farmers should be supported by relevant industry groups to have access to appropriate farm systems modelling tools and specialist support to inform land use and land management decision making.
- Farm systems modelling informed by robust science should be recognised as a critical component of farm environment planning. Farm systems modelling targeting holistic and sustainable outcomes can help guide farm environmental planning and inform critical decision making with regards to land use suitability and farm design.
(5) Effective farmer extension at both farm and catchment scale to enhance farm sustainability and ensure effective uptake of relevant technologies should be prioritised by the New Zealand government.
- Government investment into the agricultural sector needs to go beyond traditional research and development (R&D), and prioritise effective extension and farmer support (research, development and extension – RD&E). Comprehensive extension will be critical to enable sustainable management practices at both farm and catchment scale.
The future of New Zealand farming is laced with both challenge and opportunity; however, sustainable agriculture is not some far off, unattainable goal. To truly optimise farm systems in New Zealand, we must take a holistic approach, utilising a range of enabling tools to help farmers make informed decisions regarding both land use and management practice.