Freshwater proposal is important – and

farmers know it

April 1 2020

Photo: Dr Tim Mackle, DairyNZ Chief Executive

By Tim Mackle

DairyNZ Chief Executive

The Essential Freshwater Package proposal has struck a chord with rural New Zealand, as one of the most important things to face agriculture this decade – and our farmers know it.   We all, especially farmers, support the aspirations of the Essential Freshwater package.

Freshwater is important to all New Zealanders, particularly as it’s where we spend our summers swimming and fishing. Farmers want to protect our water as much as anyone.

As we get closer to the Essential Freshwater outcomes, there is increasing commentary. As is often the case, the blame game neglects the science of water quality in New Zealand and acceptance that protecting water is everyone’s duty.

Whether you are rural or urban, water quality is everyone’s responsibility. Dairy farmers will continue to do their share – in the past decade, I’ve never seen more commitment by farmers toward environmental protection.

Dairy farmers have individually spent hundreds of thousands on effluent and water technologies; they’ve fenced and planted waterways; nutrient budgets protect soils; bridges or culverts exclude dairy cattle from waterways; nitrogen management data is collected and farmers also receive farm nitrogen information.

Around 20 percent of New Zealand waterways run past or near a dairy farm. That means 80 percent of waterways not near dairy farms also need improving – so for all farmers, all industries and everyone in towns and cities, water protection is a challenge for us all.

As a research organisation, DairyNZ is committed to solutions based on robust science and economics. We are among many rural professionals working with farmers to embed farm solutions.

Dairy farmers have come a long way voluntarily, ahead of regulation. We know the journey isn’t over, but let’s empower farmers to drive environmental change, together with their communities.

Farm Environment Plans
The Essential Freshwater Package has certainly heightened the water debate. It’s vital changes are backed by robust science, to make sure what we do will deliver improved water quality.

DairyNZ’s submission on behalf of dairy farmers included a thorough scientific review and economic analysis. In it, we detailed how Farm Environment Plans are an important component and a highly effective way to target specific risks farms-by-farm and provide actions to improve waterways.

Farm Environment Plans directly address the four critical contaminants for freshwater improvement outcomes: nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment and E.coli.

The plans are an industry-led initiative increasingly adopted by regional councils, because they are a robust way to protect the environment and support rules and standards.

Farm Environment Plans go beyond minimum requirements because they take a tailored approach to managing risk, rather than one-size-fits-all policy approach. We know they lead to better environmental outcomes, particularly for ecosystem health.

For example, in Canterbury, Farm Environment Plans must consider effluent, nutrients, waterways, stock exclusion, irrigation and rubbish; include actions and be regularly independently audited.

We back the science behind Farm Environment Plans because they deliver waterway improvements in a way that is practical. They provide proven solutions for a property’s location, soil type, farm system, proximity to waterway and critical risks.

Between 2012-2015 Farm Environment Plans were voluntarily adopted by 642 Waikato dairy farms in the Upper Karapiro catchment. A scientific analysis later suggested potential reductions in farm nutrient losses of 8% for nitrogen and 21% for phosphorus, as a result of the many environmental actions identified through the farm plans.

Farmers take ownership for delivering Farm Environment Plans, their actions are based on risk to water and are time-bound. Farmers are audited and graded – which is why the plans work.

For these reasons, DairyNZ supports Farm Environment Plans for every single farm in New Zealand because we know it will continue the water quality journey.

Our sector’s Dairy Tomorrow strategy launched in 2017 includes a commitment for every farmer to have a Farm Environment Plan by 2025, as well as protecting and nurturing the environment.

The proposed water reform will have big implications for everyone – water quality issues are more apparent in many cities now too – and to achieve improved water, we must all take ownership and action.


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