New environmental reforms and Farm Environment Plans

Brad Siebert | August 2021

With global requirements around environmental impact our government is rightly setting policy to improve environmental outcomes across New Zealand. However many growers will have concern about whether these policies impact on a grower’s ability to prosper and/or add unnecessary cost and compliance. The Government is currently consulting on freshwater regulations, changes to the Resource Management Act and greenhouse gas emissions, through the He Waka Eke Noa Government/industry partnership on climate change.

The most visible outcome for growers from all these new and changing polices will be the requirement to have a Farm Environment Plan (FEP). NZ Avocado along with most of the horticulture sector believes that fruit growers should be able to meet all these requirements through their existing Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) schemes.

Within the avocado industry there are currently five group schemes under Global G.A.P. run by the individual avocado exporters. We would like to see these existing industry assurance programmes recognised and built on where necessary, so that growers can meet all the Government’s freshwater and climate change requirements in the most efficient way possible.

It is for this reason that NZ Avocado has been working with group scheme owners and growers of different scale/type to benchmark existing GAP schemes against the governments new requirements. From the information we have to date, there does not appear to be a lot needed to get Global G.A.P. criteria achieving the same outcomes that the new freshwater and emission regulations are seeking – especially seeing the soon to be released updated Global G.A.P. (Version 6) will have a new environmental sustainability section.

One current sticking point that is hotly contested by the hort collective is the Ministry for the Environment believing individual Farm Environment Plans need to be certified by an independent and environmentally qualified third party. As this is unlikely to be achieved by the current group scheme model that uses post-harvest auditors this will likely quadruple the cost of a growers annual G.A.P. programme.

Many will have heard that the Farm Environment Plan regulations will apply only to land with over 5 hectares in horticulture. For the NZ avocado industry this relates to about 10% of our growers and this is likely to be reflected across horticulture in general. If the FEP ‘certifying’ step was able to be better integrated with existing G.A.P. auditing systems, then many exporters would simply find it easier for all growers to undertake these new elements of environmental reporting. However, the government’s current approach to third party certification will mean that a only small proportion of horticulture is likely to play their part in these environmental goals. This doesn’t sound like a comprehensive, well-structured or equitable set of environmental reforms to me.

From a broader perspective central government needs to simply slow down the relentless push to get reforms enacted within political terms. We have seen this rush around environmental reforms result in consultation being too short and the release of new policy timelines and implementation plans not lined up with associated environmental legislation. This was most obvious with the water and climate reforms having competing chicken and egg timelines in relation to how and when they were to be implemented and who needed to comply. Growers need time to adapt especially when research and technology need to catch up in order for growers to have practical and economic ways to meet the government’s environmental and economic objectives.

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The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the above article belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, organization, committee or other group or individual.

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