How to use farm environment plans to your advantage

The word ‘audit’ usually bears negative connotations of tedious, unnecessary work to appease a faction of government. For Canterbury farmers, a top-of-mind example is the enforcement of ‘farm environment plans’. Environment Canterbury (ECAN) has recently implemented requirements to have a ‘farm environment plan’ for farms that meet certain criteria based around location, farm size and nitrogen leaching levels. A farm environment plan is a farm audit focussing on environmental impacts and sustainability. They are part of the larger Land and Water Regional Plan, implemented by ECAN which aims to provide clear direction on how land and water are to be managed and help deliver community aspirations for water quality in both urban and rural areas. The Hawkes Bay Regional Council has a management plan in place for farmers and the Marlborough District Council have one in place for dairy farmers. However, ECAN covers the widest area.

Plans require detail on the following information:

  • Property or farm enterprise details
  • Map or aerial photos at a scale
  • List of all Canterbury Regional Council resource consents held for the property or farm enterprise
  • Assessment of adverse environmental effects and risks associated with farming activities and how these will be managed
  • How these objectives will be met
    • Nutrient management
    • Irrigation management
    • Soils management
    • Collected animal effluent management
    • Livestock management
    • Offal pits
  • Nutrient budgets

The plan must be audited by a Farm Environmental Plan Auditor before submission to ECAN and be completed and submitted every year. It’s easy to file compulsory documents away and forget about them until it’s time to submit another report. However, there are many opportunities to be gained from the data collected for farm environment plans. One example is using the mandatory irrigation and soil management data to farm smarter.

Moisture knowledge is power

Moisture is a critical factor in many farming application areas. It affects growth, quality and profits. Since moisture measurement is already a requirement for Canterbury farms, it might as well be used to benefit the farm itself. Having visibility of soil moisture levels across the farm empowers farm managers to strategically place irrigation and allocate resources to areas that need it most. For example, an accurate soil moisture system, when used in conjunction with feed budgeting information, can be used to predict pasture growth. On large properties, visual pasture assessments often cannot be completed weekly, but using the information from a soil moisture system gives farmers the ability to predict pasture growth based on soil temperature and moisture. By having a better understanding of soil moisture and temperature, farmers can gain greater value from other tools such as feed budgeting and climate outlooks, contributing to more informed decisions. This helps farmers to assess the risk and opportunities that may exist around future feed supply and demand and allow decisions such as stocking levels, when to purchase or when to sell, to be made in a more informed manner and potentially increase returns to the business.

Accurate data, accurate analysis

Having a soil moisture sensor that measures accurately is obviously beneficial for analysing this type of data. But what makes soil moisture sensors more accurate than others? Reliable, hardy equipment and an expert support team to consult with are essential to producing quality water moisture data. Having soil moisture sensors that gather data from a cross-section of soil, rather than just one spot, will help eliminate discrepancies caused by factors such as dripping irrigators, soil variability and stony soil. Because of the strict regulations within farm environment plans to provide accurate information, installing quality soil moisture monitoring technology will not only comply with ECAN’s specifications but also give greater visibility for farmers to make advantageous decisions to benefit farm efficiency and profitability.