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Eco farm plans are paying off

Mark and Susannah Guscott began their wetlands project about six years ago, and are proud of the progress. PHOTO/BECKIE WILSON

BECKIE WILSON

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Many things in life can get pushed aside with the intention of getting it done later, but finding the time to sit down and plan it can often be the barrier.

For Mark and Susannah Guscott, running their 800ha South Wairarapa sheep, beef and cropping farm can be a big enough job.

With environmental goals at the forefront of their future planning, it can often be tricky to get it all done.

The Guscotts are one of 59 farmers in Wairarapa who have signed up for a farm environment plan (FEP) since 2011.

Supported by the Greater Wellington Regional Council, the FEPs are seen as a programme to help raise awareness among farmers of water quality issues in their catchments and to advocate good farming practices.

As the sixth Guscott generation to farm on the Ponatahi land, Glen Eden, their FEP has helped them get stuck in and tick things off.

The couple, who took over the family farm about 12 years ago, got on board in February last year, and cannot speak highly enough of the benefits.

“We have always known what we wanted to achieve here but it’s getting it all down in a plan which is really good,” Mrs Guscott said.

“For me it provided a focus for where we want to go and want to achieve.”

“This autumn, we planted a whole lot of trees along our front flats to provide shade and shelter, and we planted flax shelters belts, which are in the plan.”

They run romney sheep, angus cows, wagyu bulls, barley and maize.

The property also boasts 18ha of QE2 protected land.

About six years ago the couple fenced off a 4ha wetland area and began planting.

It was the right thing to do, Mr Guscott said, the land was swampy and in traditional farming sense it wasn’t a productive piece of land.

“People have this perception that you pop the plants in the ground and that’s it. But it’s not. You have to spray, and you have to nurse the plants along, it’s quite intensive,” Mrs Guscott said.

Having the plan allows them to do projects in “bite sized chunks”.

Their next project is to fence off a lagoon near the wetlands.

In summer they will pull out the willows, then begin planting (natives) a year or two after that.

The “realistic” plan can help budget projects, and put down up to 10 years’ worth of goals.

“All farmers care about the environment, and if you don’t, you don’t have a business. You have to look after your environment — that’s what we do,” she said.

“We are part of the environment too as humans.”

The couple want to be able to provide habitats for other wildlife and birds through their current projects.

For Mr Guscott, having the plan solidified what he already knew.

For example, most farmers know areas on their farm that stay wet in the winter which are not ideal to have cattle on.

But the plan puts it down on paper and shows you are already thinking about it, he said.

Each farm with a FEP is assigned one of three land management advisors.

The regional council has a contestable fund that farmers can apply for to help with project costs.

While about 90 per cent of the costs is covered by the Guscotts, the council put forward a percentage of the planting in the wetland and fencing.

The regional council spent just under $520,000 on contestable fund projects in the financial year ending in June.

A regional council land management officer Tony Faulkner said the demand from farmers surpasses the council’s aim to complete 15 plans a year.

“The work done through the farm plans was incentivised with grants to encourage landowners to stabilise erosion prone land,” he said.

“We see our role as knowledge brokers; helping landowners form their own questions about their farms and connecting them with the resources or people who can help them answer these questions.”

The regional council’s farm plans began in the 1950s as part of a catchment protection scheme after the Whareama area was subject to severe flooding over several years.

Farm plans were intended to cover works that were preventative in nature and had more of a benefit to the farms involved than the larger, public, catchment works.

The plans then moved into the intensive land use space, offering them to dairy farmers and intensive sheep and beef farmers with a focus on reducing nutrients entering the waterways.

The Guscott’s look forward to ticking more environmentally friendly projects off their plan list.

Taking matters into their own hands with eco-zone

 

Mark and Susannah Guscott acknowledge when you think of the environment, it doesn’t just finish at farm boundaries.

With this in mind, the couple, along with neighbours including about six farmers, and a dozen lifestyle block owners from the Ponatahi area have banded together and formed the Ponatahi Eco Zone.

“We are looking at the whole catchment, not just out own land — all the water runs everywhere, no matter where you are,” Mrs Guscott said.

The group is about pitching in and making a plan for the valley, “like a big farm environment plan for the whole area”.

They had the idea about three years ago, but busy lifestyles and younger child were a priority until six months ago when they decided to get things going.

“About a kilometre up the road, we planted some trees around a waterway — it took a couple of hours, and we had a beer and a sausage afterwards,” Mr Guscott said.

Not only does it help the environment and the farmers, it is an excuse to socialise with neighbours, he said.

“Everyone is doing good stuff and that’s great, but if we collate what we wanted the eco zone to look like, the eco part is part of it but there is more to that.”

For example, if the group decided they wanted to attract a particular native bird to the area, all farmers would plant a certain tree type, not just one farmer, he said.

It’s about taking ownership and doing something before being told that they should, he said.

A future project could be on the Guscott’s farm with everyone having a knapsack sprayer to help with spraying weeds in the QE2 block.

They plan to put up signs in their catchment area to let those people travelling past know their latest accomplishments.

The Ponatahi Eco Zone planting day at Dan and Reidun Nicholson’s property. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

 

 

 

1 COMMENT

  1. This is so heartening to read. Good on the Guscotts for being ahead of the play. May all New Zealand farmers follow their lead so our land use and waterways thrive on environmental principles. Everyone wins. Townies might even offer to help and be part of [and proud of] their countryside that way.

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