Mapping to optimise whole farm systems
The AgriBusiness Group specialises in understanding and optimising farm systems through their extensive research and consultancy experiences. They assist farmers who are planning to diversify and/or optimise their current system, using land-use capability mapping as a good way to start the diversification planning process.
A client once asked: “To what degree have farms been developed to fit a farm system type, as opposed to farm systems developed to fit the farm?” Here in The Agribusiness Group, we believe the future of farming in New Zealand is more of the latter, developing the farm system to fit the farm.
Traditionally, many farms did follow prescribed farm systems, so that they could be benchmarked against the performance of Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) or Beef + Lamb NZ monitoring farms. However, the agricultural policy reforms of the 1980s stimulated diversification, as farmers tried to reduce their reliance on one source of income or traditional income streams. This has evolved to a diversity within farm systems not seen in years past, such as forestry, stock trading, bees, agritourism and deer farming, which often incorporated the traditional breeding enterprises.
More recently, the National Policy Statement on Fresh Water Quality has led to some regional councils adopting audited self-management (ASM) frameworks, which include both Farm Environment Plans (FEP) and the auditing of these plans in an attempt to decrease the environmental impact of farming. The Agribusiness Group was involved in the inception of ASM in South Canterbury and has been part of the development and implementation of these frameworks across Canterbury over the last 10 years. We have found that many of the ‘good management practices’ expected by FEP auditors also contribute to the optimisation of farm systems and their profitability. In other words, the regulatory requirement of ASM and FEP by regional councils can in fact be used to farmers’ advantage to optimise their farming systems. This is why some farmers have actively engaged in extending the FEP to a whole farm plan.
A whole farm plan is about optimising the farm system to fit the farm. It starts by describing the land within the farm boundary through land use capability (LUC) mapping. This helps to understand the relative potential productivity, the number and the location of LUC areas within the farm boundary. Farms would range from having one land use capability unit across the farm (e.g. flat land dairy farms), to having a multitude of land use capability units (e.g. broken hill country farms). Understanding the LUC areas and their locations provides the opportunity for farmers to develop their farm systems to suit the farm in a way that optimises farm profits and decreases the environmental impact.
The AgriBusiness Group trialled this land use capability mapping within the recent MPI funded Post-quake Farming Project, where land use capability maps were developed down to a scale of 1:10,000, and the areas of these land use areas (polygons) were measured. Farmers were then able to prioritise their development and analyse the range of land use options for various LUC both financially and non-financially to ensure a farm-system-level fit. For example, a farmer might consider that the relatively high returns from forestry are diminished if it takes out the good lambing country, or the location of the forest make it financially prohibitive to log.
Significant changes in farm systems are ahead as diversification continues. It will be imperative that farmers understand the farm system implications of these changes when they are applied. The AgriBusiness Group specialises in understanding and optimising farm systems through their extensive research and consultancy experiences. We can assist farmers who are planning to diversify and/or optimise their current system, with a wide range of undertakings from developing FEPs through to whole farm plans.
If you would like to find out more or have any questions about land use capability mapping and whole farm plans, get in touch with Dave Lucock.