Sustainable Land Use Initiative Case Study

The devastating flooding across much of the Manawatu in February 2004 was the catalyst for a programme to address the loss of natural capital stocks and in doing so mitigate the source of much of the sediment finding its way into the region’s rivers and streams.

Following the storm, Horizons Regional Council held a meeting with a wide range of community representatives to discuss what could be done to reduce hill country erosion and flooding of the region’s plains.

The result was the formation of the Sustainable Land Use Initiative (SLUI). The initiative is a renewed response to investment in soil conservation and aims to provide a ‘mountains to the sea’ approach to wise land use by developing and implementing Whole Farm Plans with individual farmers.

The aim is to repair and reduce the region’s hill country erosion and storm vulnerability by identifying issues at a catchment scale and then targeting implementation at a farm scale. This is done by implementing and part-funding on-farm erosion control work carried out in Whole Farm Plans and is directed at properties identified as being most at risk of accelerated erosion.

 

About the Case Study

The devastating flooding across much of the Manawatu region in February 2004 was the catalyst for a programme to address the loss of natural capital stocks, and in doing so mitigate the source of much of the sediment finding its way into the region’s rivers and streams.

“The visible devastation on the hill country and across the plains, to infrastructure, people and their businesses, schools and homes was a real shock for the community at the time,” says AgResearch scientist Dr Alec Mackay.

Following the storm, Horizons Regional Council held a meeting with a wide range of community representatives to discuss what could be done to reduce hill country erosion and flooding of the region’s plains.

“From that meeting came the resolution that we were determined that this crisis should never happen again,” says Alec.

The result was the formation of the Sustainable Land Use Initiative (SLUI). The initiative is a renewed response to investment in soil conservation and aims to provide a ‘mountains to the sea’ approach to wise land use by developing and implementing Whole Farm Plans with individual farmers.

The aim is to repair and reduce the region’s hill country erosion and storm vulnerability by identifying issues at a catchment scale and then targeting implementation at a farm scale. This is done by implementing and part-funding on-farm erosion control work carried out in Whole Farm Plans and is directed at properties identified as being most at risk of accelerated erosion.

The development of the individual Whole Farm Plans that drive the initiative is voluntary and its development occurs as a private conversation between the land owner, land manager and farm consultant. Only once the plan has been completed and actions agreed is it made available to Horizons Regional Council.

Led by Horizons Regional Council, SLUI is guided by both a technical and governance group, which includes AgResearch, landowners, Federated Farmers, Horizons Regional Council, industry leaders, the Ministry for Primary Industries and the Local Government Chairs, Mayors and CEO group.

AgResearch was heavily involved in the development of SLUI in the 12 months following the flood, including the costing and feasibility study, developing and testing the prototype Whole Farm Plans, updating the Land Use Capability Survey Handbook, linking the Whole Farm Plans to catchment outcomes and providing on-going input to both groups.

 

What success looked like

  • Length of time SLUI has been running (from 2004 onwards)
  • 513 Whole Farm Plans covering 380,000 hectares
  • 7.5 million trees planted (in 2013, 25% of all new forestry planted in New Zealand was in the Manawatu)
  • Achieved actual change on farm
  • Change in attitude of farmers
  • Farmers contributed at least $22 million in cash:
    • It was a partnership
    • Recognition that there were different objectives
  • Farmers thinking differently “can have different kind of conversations”

 

Project Outputs and Tools

Whole Farm Plans – the Whole Farm Plan is the cornerstone of SLUI. Suitably trained land managers work with landowners to map the farm (land types, soils, vegetation cover and infrastructure), discuss with the landowner the current farm business and processes, carry out both an economic and environmental assessment to determine acceptable farming practices in terms of environmental sustainability and economic return, and finally develop and implement a programme of works to achieve the agreed outcomes.

Incentives – financial assistance to offset the costs to landowners of making changes to their farming practices, e.g. fencing and retiring land, re-routing access tracks, poplar planting. The weighting on that assistance is heavily towards soil conservation practices that have the most immediate benefit to reducing community vulnerability.

Monitoring – to assess the progress and success of the initiative and its roll-out. Without monitoring it is not possible to determine whether methods or approaches need to be modified.

Joint ventures – opportunities exist for landowners, local government and private organisations to enter into joint ventures to establish forestry on those blocks where it is identified that livestock farming is no longer sustainable. This approach reduces the cost and risk to the landowner of establishing forestry and allows the landowner to tap into external forestry expertise.

 

Project Impact

  • By the end of 2012, 369 whole farm plans had been developed and implemented, covering 295,818 ha of highly-erodible hill country. By mid-2014, about 500 whole farm plans had been completed, covering nearly 400,000 ha of the 1.2 million ha of hill country in the Horizons Region
    Based on the Beef + Lamb New Zealand Economic Survey Central North Island Hard Hill Country and Hill Country sheep and beef farm results, those farms were estimated to have a gross revenue of $597/ha (hard hill country) to $869/ha, so these actions can be estimated to have (by 2012) significantly improved the sustainability of farms that earned between $177 and $257 million in revenue each year. The increased revenue value of the farms covered by mid-2014 can be estimated at between $239 and $347 million each year
  • The traditional approach for estimating the economic benefit of such an initiative is to estimate the extent to which it is preventing degradation of land productivity. Soil lost from slips reduces pasture productivity to zero. That productivity returns to 60-80% of the original value over about 20-50 years but it does not rise any further. The depth of topsoil in un-eroded hill country land averages 16.3cm, while the depth on eroded (slipped) land averages 5.9cm. It takes thousands of years for soil formation to replace the lost profile
  • Using a fitted curve for dry matter production levels vs. years since a slip developed by Rosser & Ross (2011) we can estimate the net present value of production from slipped land and compare that to the net present value of production from non-eroded land, using the average gross revenue for hard hill country. On that basis, the value of production loss that would be avoided through the works to the end of 2012 can be estimated at $1.1 million per year and the loss that would be avoided due to the full set of works (which are expected to reduce sediment in the Manawatu River by 2 million tonnes) would be $4.9 million per year
  • The actions taken as a result of this initiative are also likely to have reduced the risk of lowland farms in and urban properties in the Horizons region being damaged by extreme flooding, such as that which occurred in February 2004. The direct cost of erosion, flooding and associated damage due to that event was estimated at close to $300 million. That event included rainfall amounts with average return intervals of about 150 years. If, as intended, the Sustainable Land Use Initiative will largely prevent damage of this type in the future, the value of avoiding a $300 million cost at a 150-year return interval would be about $2 million per year on top of the savings in production revenue and it is very likely that additional costs have been avoided that would relate to more localised and shorter return-interval events than the 2004 floods.

 

Case study ‘network’: who was involved

  • Horizon’s Regional Council (HRC) staff
  • Councillors, HRC Chairman
  • Rate payers
  • Farmers
  • Federated farmers
  • Government Ministers
  • Ministry for Primary Industries (previously MAF)
  • Massey University
  • Other Councils
  • Farm forestry
  • Forestry companies
  • Crown Research Institutes (including AgResearch)
  • Agribusiness Advisors
  • Contractor

 

Project Timeline

2002-2003

  • Initial relationships developed after an AgResearch presentation on the importance of soils to Resource Managers of Regional Councils.
  • Horizons Regional Council (HRC) realised more science was needed:
    • What were the issues?
    • How could we solve them??

2004

  • February – Major storm event – many areas in the Horizons Region received rainfall well in excess of the 24 hour, 1 in 100 year maximums.
  • Helen Clark (then Prime Minister) visits
  • August – Upper North Island floods
  • September – HRC facilitated community hui to establish “SLUG”
  • October – Local body elections - New HRC CEO and Chair
  • November – Working group meeting - Technical advisory group formed
  • Slips map aerial photography of damage by Landcare Research.
  • December – Working group meeting, Governance group first meeting
  • Landcare report defining highly erodible land (HEL)

2005

  • Working group meeting
  • Landcare report 500 farm plans (10% farms = 50% reduction in sediment)
  • Many community group meetings, Chairman talks
  • SLUI package idea delivered to Central Government
  • SLUI Accord
  • November – Governance group meeting
  • November – AgResearch report to Horizons on costing and feasibility of SLUI
  • HRC CEO displays interest in soils conversation
  • Helen Clark (PM) visit and sales pitch
  • 6 Whole Farm Plans (WFP) completed by AgResearch and LV Tony Grey farm #1

2006

  • Helen Clark (PM) visit
  • February – Talk of applying for SFF funding
  • Meeting on capability building - Massey University scholarships
  • June – HRC confirms funding of SLUI

2007

  • Chairman on TV suggesting Regional Council might regulate
  • Horizons Chief Executive Forum established
  • Mid 2007 – Emissions Trading Scheme helps fund trees
  • Mid 2007 – 45 WFPs completed
  • November – MAF approved funding
  • MAF validation
  • Afforestation Grants Scheme formed
  • One Plan notified - SLUI linked to registration

2008

  • Mid 2008 – 133 WFPs completed
  • AgResearch report on SLUI database, initial database performance

2009

  • Mid 2009 - 213 WFPs completed
  • Sediment modelling by Landcare
  • SLUI I completed

2010

  • SLUI II reviewed - second application
  • Database stabilised

2011

  • Mid 2011 - 358 WFPs complete
  • Advisory group meeting
  • Sediment calibrated against ‘real-life’ - showing real change

2012

  • Mid 2012 - 360 WFPs completed
  • AgResearch review and progress to date report
  • Sediment sites showing improving trends

2013

  • HRC State of Environment report - 7.5 million trees planted
  • Advisory group meeting
  • June – Afforestation Grants Scheme cancelled

2014

  • Sediment calibrated for the region - new scenarios run
  • 513 WFPs completed
  • Plans covering 380 000 ha mapped
  • Total spend to date: $40m AGS/Govt/HRC $20m farmers