Risk Management for Good Practice

The future hasn’t happened yet. Today we make educated guesses and do something. Later, we’ll discover if our choices were good.

We use “good agricultural practice” even though it is no guarantee. What seems right today turns out not to be. Hindsight is easy. Its value is in building knowledge for foresight the next time around. Foresight is part gamble, but greatly enhanced with local knowledge, historical context and good advice.

Growers need to make a profit. And they are expected to keep people, property and the environment safe. This is central to good agricultural practice. With so much uncertainty about so many factors, and so many things to consider, getting it “right” is a big ask.

Good agricultural practice applies deliberate choices based on good information, acknowledging and accounting for unknowns. It weighs the likelihood and implications of possible events against potential costs and rewards. Much attention has been placed on the financial side, but increasingly the environmental aspects must be taken into account.

Implementing a formal risk management approach enhances good agricultural practice. Risk management involves identifying hazards, assessing associated risks and implementing interventions. Things will go wrong, but the frequency and consequence are reduced.

Hazards are things that can cause or lead to events with undesirable consequences. Heavy rain, frost, pests and market collapse are hazards.

Risk combines the likelihood of the event happening with the severity of consequence. There will be heavy rain events, but how often? They can destroy crops, leach nutrients, wash away soil and damage infrastructure. What are the immediate and on-going severe consequences? How much will they cost? What effect on waterways?

Interventions are actions that avoid, minimise or mitigate the event or consequence. The size of risk and effectiveness of intervention help determine the investment that is justified.

Good practice has always had an element of risk management. Making it explicit helps demonstrate that the potential impacts of adverse events have been considered and appropriate management applied.

Who should decide what good practice is? Should it be prescribed, or should farmers have choice?

We prefer to have choice. Every site on every farm is unique – yes, your soils are different! By assessing our own situation and making our own justified plans, we can get the best fit for site, fit for purpose good practice.

Creating a full risk management plan for every aspect of farming is a daunting task. The same process can be followed to manage any risk. But it will be harder if we are dealing with unfamiliar topics or are not sure of the possible problems and solutions. We want to make it easier.

As part of the “Holding it Together” project, we scoped a risk management process to address soil quality and loss. We saw resources to help farmers work efficiently through a robust process, identifying and quantifying hazards and risks, and sifting through potential interventions would be useful.

A book or website with checklists and supporting information would make things much easier. Imagine clicking on a “hazard” and seeing a list of risks and image sets showing relative severity and ideas on avoiding the impact. Follow the cues relating things to your farm. Click “Print” and your Good Practice Risk Management Plan is complete.

Dan Bloomer and Phillipa Page, LandWISE

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