Good environmental performance means fewer compliance checks
The audited self-management process can initially be a costly exercise when you consider consenting costs, nutrient budgets, changes to infrastructure and the cost of the audit. Farms at an A-grade level and outside of an irrigation scheme, only need to be audited once every three years.
“We want to do it right, but it’s also about keeping jobs being profitable so the less money we spend on things like that, the better for the whole operation. If we improve our environmental management, we will pay less in compliance costs,” Marv says.
In the past two years leading up to this farm audit, Marv has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars upgrading his effluent ponds and irrigation system as well as investing in bucket testing and soil moisture monitoring in the hopes of reaching that A grade.
Overlooking his old effluent storage system, Marv reflects on how things have changed.
“Back when we got our previous effluent system, we could get no one to help us design it - there was no one doing it. There was no effluent calculator and we designed it too small with only about 7-8 days storage which we thought was lots, because we were coming from a system where we only had one day storage,” he says.
This year, he installed a new effluent system which now includes 30 days storage.
On his run-off paddock, he shows Alison how he’s made changes to the way he irrigates. At the last audit, he only had one pivot, but now he’s using a fixed grid and two pivots and has found land has been much more productive.
"The farm used to be irrigated in a 16-day round with 50ml of water at a time; now we're using 5 ml at a time but more frequently which has helped with the leaching. We use half as much water than what we used to, and the land has been more productive."
Good environmental practices benefits bottom lines too
Having reviewed Marv’s farm environment plans, nutrient budgets and other data as well as viewing changes he’s made to infrastructure on farm, Alison was able to award him three A-grades.
“Receiving an A grade was pleasing as it showed we are on the right track and means that I do not have to spend the time and money on an audit for another three years,” Marv says.
For farmers striving to achieve higher grades, Alison has some advice:
“When an auditor comes, ask a lot of questions so you understand what good management practice is being reviewed, why it’s important, and what the options are available to address any issues.
“Treating your audit as a learning process will enable you to take as much value from it and may challenge your thinking in whether you can do things better to have a more sustainable and profitable business,” she says.
Often farmers have been nervous about their first audit, but they need not worry.
“Many farmers are apprehensive about their first audit but most farmers I see want to be doing the right thing and are aware good environmental practices are good for sustainability and profitability too. For example, fertiliser is an expensive resource, so it makes good business sense, as well as environmental sense, to apply it at a time when you have a plant which will actively use it.
“I am surprised at how many farms I have seen over the past few years that are at or very close to an A grade level already. This is a great result, but I always encourage these farmers to keep considering how they do things and whether they can do them differently or better. Complacency around our practices won’t see us achieve the changes we need to across the different catchments.”
For more information on farm audits see www.canterburywater.farm
Farm audits at a glance
Farms which require a consent to farm must have a farm environment plan as part of their consent conditions, and this plan must be independently audited.