Flights, farm plans and five metre buffers
Cultivation flights show Murihiku Southland from a different perspective. A bird’s eye view highlights where water transport routes lie on the landscape. Staff are using this knowledge to work with farmers on plans for intensive winter grazing practices before animals get into the paddock. From the air, you can see paddocks that look like they may pose a greater risk for contaminant loss.
Principal land sustainability officer Karl Erikson says, “We’re looking out for steeper slopes, paddocks with lots of waterways or critical source areas. These are gullies or swales where water hits the landscape and become the main transport areas off the land into waterways.”
Now in their third year, the cultivation flights are part of a wider engagement programme supporting farmers to plan ahead when it comes to winter grazing. If any areas of interest are identified, land sustainability staff get in touch with the land owner or grazier and offer a free winter grazing plan to fit these tricky areas. “Farm plans are a key pathway to improving water quality, so using them as a guiding tool should be at the forefront of the planning process,” Karl says. “We started cultivation flights because we were thinking about how we could be proactive and get in there to give advice before issues come up.”
Last year, 11 farmers identified from the flights took them up on it. “Every offer that we’ve made has been accepted, and I’ve been getting heaps of calls from farmers for a yarn saying we’re coming up with some good ideas .”
Like Nigel McCormack. He’s a dry stock manager and tractor driver near Mandeville who oversees stock on six dairy farms. When Karl and the team got in touch about paddocks that looked risky last season, he worked with them to find a solution for run off and mud. “There’s two creeks down there and it was pretty wet during the middle of winter. There were two places that were looking pretty bad.”
On Karl’s advice, five metre crop buffers were left around the waterways with the intention they remained ungrazed throughout the winter. Nigel says he has noticed improvements in the paddock since, and is taking steps to see what works best for the farm. “This season we didn’t actually sow one paddock, so the five metre buffer is just natural grass. The other paddock with the creek is sowed with seed so we’ll see whether there’s much of a difference for keeping it dry.”
He says the advice and suggestions he has received are rooted in common sense and more often than not, simple changes make a big difference. For example, fencing the buffer. “It is more work but it stays up year round. It’s better than getting a letter, it’s helping the company and the lifestyle, and it’s keeping the animals healthy.”
Nigel sees the collaboration as a way to make use of the knowledge within the council and tailor it to his situation. “It’s wee simple things that we don’t think about, but it’s Karl’s job to sit in his office and think about them,” he laughs.
When the thinking’s done, the land sustainability team go to the farm. It’s an aspect of the cultivation flight programme Nigel has found truly valuable. “There’s a lot of changes coming up (to winter grazing rules), we read it in the paper or whatever, but that can be in one ear and out the other. When someone comes and actually shows you the practical side and says ‘that’s not right you should do that there;’ you’re in the paddock. Even if it’s only 20 minutes or half an hour, it sticks with us better.”
Those changes include a national environmental standard on winter grazing from central government, as well as rules in the proposed Southland Water and Land Plan. “In the future there’ll be a certain amount of criteria to meet in order to winter graze without a consent,” Karl says. “A winter grazing plan is part of the wider farm plan, which will be subject to auditing in the future. Getting a farm plan is a way to set your goals and follow them.”
Nigel agrees. “Makes my job a bit easier because I can tell the others and share it. We’re farmers. We just go ahead with our daily routine and work. If you’re told what to do and it’s going to help your farming, bloody do it.”