A group of Aprima farmers briefed Environment Minister David Parker on a project they have initiated, in Otautau on Friday (September 21).
The Aparima Community Engagement (ACE) project is encouraging farmers in the area to move towards improved land management practices to help build environmental and community resilience.
Pourakino Valley dairy farmer David Diprose told those gathered that the project – which encompassed six local catchment groups – aimed to build community support for environmental challenges around Aparima catchments.
The environmental challenges were diverse and complex, and required a fundamental shift to a different set of land management drivers, he said.
“This is my space, I’m proud of it, and I want to make a difference. The community in my opinion are the ones who will make the change.”
The ACE initiative has been underway since March 2018, but has not been offically launched yet as the group wants to talk directly to all 630 farmers in the area and build more support before taking the next steps.
These next steps will be to identify priority actions and funding opportunities.
Significant progress has been made in areas such as the Pourakino, and the challenge is to bring on board the wider Aparima community.
In its early stages the project has been collaborative, with a lot of goodwill from all participants wanting to drive, measure and communicate positive change.
Colac Bay dairy farmer Ewen Mathieson said the ACE initiative was giving those involved a good opportunity to engage with their community – including urban communities and Oraka-Aparima Runanga.
“We’ve seen farmers take the lead in the establishment of these groups,” he said.
“It’s given us an opportunity to identify what actions need to be taken, and to take action.”
Examples included identifying best practice around the likes of buffer zones for wintering, and around the use of crops and fertiliser.
No two farms were alike – and many had complex dynamics, such as his own farm with multiple physiographic zones, soil types, rolling to steep land, five different types of stock, and 28 km of waterways.
“The actions needed are all invariably different.”
Farmers in the Aparima were showing a willingness to be involved and an awareness around the need for land management changes, Mr Mathieson said.
“That bodes very, very well for our businesses going forward.”
Supporting and enhancing the vibrancy of local communities was a vital aspect of ACE.
Environment Minister David Parker said the ACE project was another example of Southland stepping up to tackle challenging water issues.
The farmers involved were showing leadership and others would be inspired to follow, he said.
Regulation was only part of the way forward, farmer-led initiatives such as ACE were important, he said.
Environment Southland chief executive Rob Phillips said agencies were standing shoulder to shoulder supporting the farmer lead initiative.