BCI water users (both BCI shareholders and the Acton Farmers Irrigation Co-operative who receive water under license from BCI) are committed to playing their part in working towards the water use efficiency and nutrient management standards required under the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management, believing that a future proofed primary sector will enable even greater environmental outcomes as well as economic prosperity for Canterbury and New Zealand.
This commitment is evident in the recent Farm Environment Plan (FEP) Auditing results, with 93% of of farmers achieving either an A or a B grade. Most notable is the lift from 12% achieving an A grade in the 2015/16 results, to 35% being awarded an A Grade this round. An “A” result is achieved if a farmer is meeting Good Management Practice (GMP), a “B” is when they are on track to meeting GMP.
The result supports the BCI commitment to balancing the irrigation needs of farmers with sustaining and safeguarding the natural environment.
So what does this actually mean, and why should the Ashburton district be celebrating this result?
BCI & AFIC operate under a Nutrient Discharge Resource Consent which sets clear limits for nutrient losses. Under this consent, farmers are required to complete an annual Farm Environment Plan (FEP) and are expected to operate at Good Management Practice (GMP). An FEP is a tool to help recognise and identify environmental risks on farm, and it sets out a plan to manage and mitigate those risks and to meet GMP. It provides a bird’s eye view of the farming operation and helps farmers see exactly what they are doing well, and where they could improve. An FEP covers all aspects affecting environmental performance, for example nutrient budgeting, efficiency of water use and effluent and soil management. An FEP is a living document and is therefore updated regularly to reflect each farm’s current operation or changes to farming practices. Good Management Practice was defined following extensive collaboration between Environment Canterbury, Crown Research Institutes and several primary sector organisations, and since 2017 has been the agreed measure of optimal farm management in Canterbury, across all farming sectors.
The FEP puts a timeframe for delivery around making any improvements, thereby increasing accountability and overall results. BCI offers its shareholders ongoing training and support with the FEP process, the aim being improved environmental outcomes on farm, within the scheme as a whole and therefore the wider catchment. Frequency of audits depends on the grade achieved previously, and are undertaken by an independent auditor in accordance with Good Management Practices (GMP) guidelines relating to water quality. The resulting information is reliable nutrient loss estimates from various farming practices, which can be used for catchment modelling and regulatory purposes – the ultimate aim being all farmers operating at GMP.
A notable contributor towards the audit result performance is the willingness of shareholders to participate in the FEP program. BCI is a relatively new irrigation scheme, and the first to operate under a Nutrient Discharge Consent in 2013 amid a much wider public awareness of the environmental issues facing the primary sector. For most BCI farmers, facing the challenge of sustainably managing the community’s water resource meant that adopting an irrigated farming system should go naturally hand in hand with ‘doing the right thing’. So, while participation is a mandatory part of belonging to the scheme, the level of farmer engagement and enthusiasm for the process demonstrates a real desire to make positive changes on farm and improve environmental outcomes.