Commitment to change lifts audit grades

Eyrewell farmer Scott Evans (right) chats with environmental consultant Paul Reese during a Farm Environment Plan (FEP) audit. Scott has received A and B audit grades for his farms.

A willingness to proactively improve farming practices has seen 89 per cent of Waimakariri Irrigation Limited (WIL) shareholders achieve an A or B Farm Environment Plan (FEP) audit during the 2018/19 season; an increase of 21 percent from the 2016/17 season.

C audit grades have decreased from 28 per cent in the 2016/17 season to 9 per cent in the 2018/19, while just one farm received a D audit grade.

Environmental consultant Paul Reese, who has been managing the Farm Environmental Plan (FEP) and audit process for WIL since its inception, has noticed a huge change in mindset over the last five years.

“Everyone has made significant progress, with most WIL shareholders now achieving an A or B audit grade. Almost all landowners are aiming for the highest level and they’re very proactive about making changes on-farm to improve their score.

“For me, the focus has been on helping those with a C or D grade move up to a B or an A grade. Only one farm received a D grade which was a result of changes which a new owner had made to a feeding pad. The farm will be re-audited this month and we expect it to move.

“WIL has been really proactive about identifying audit issues and acting quickly to work with farmers in order to make the required improvements.”

Paul says the two biggest challenges for landowners have been effluent management and irrigation. He says the introduction of a partnership with software provider Regen has enabled farmers to make irrigation decisions backed by hard data.

“Nearly everyone is hooked up to Regen and the data that is collected gives farmers daily recommendations on whether to irrigate via an app.

“When it comes to effluent it’s a matter of the correct collection, storage and application.”

Paul has witnessed a huge shift as the audit process has changed from an unknown concept to something that farmers understand and actively engage with as they prepare documentation and meet with him on farm. He says there’s plenty of kudos for those who receive an A grade.

“The farmers really strive for it and take a lot of notice of what’s happening on their farm and neighbouring properties. It’s an intense process and you get to home in on areas where you are doing well and others where you might need to make some changes.

“Landowners are taking action to make sure that they play their part and there’s a real willingness and desire to get things right. They’re actively engaged with the FEP process right through to the audit stage where we’re seeing them take action to improve their environmental performance.

“The ultimate goal is to have all shareholders at an A or B grade level and we’re making good progress towards achieving this result.”