Southland water quality targets need urgent review

27 January 2022

Southland water quality targets need urgent review.

DairyNZ technical experts have reviewed the science underpinning Southland’s water quality limit setting process and believe alternative water quality targets could achieve the improvements in water quality Southlander’s want to see, but with less impact on agriculture, the regional economy and people’s wellbeing.

DairyNZ’s strategy and investment leader for responsible dairy, and water quality scientist, Dr David Burger says that water quality needs to improve in Southland and that farmers are committed to doing their bit to achieve this, alongside other New Zealanders.

“We have been looking at Environment Southland’s data and modelling closely and we believe improvements could be achieved with nutrient loss targets much lower than what Environment Southland is proposing.

“We share Federated Farmers concerns about Environment Southland’s water report released over the holidays, which suggests major reductions in nutrient losses across Southland farms, in some catchments of up to 90 percent,” says Dr Burger.

“This is causing enormous stress for farmers who want to understand how the proposed targets came about.”

“We have been urging Environment Southland for the past six months to review their water quality modelling and assumptions and explain how these targets will impact the community. It is disappointing this hasn’t happened yet. Now is the time to carry out this review while the process is still in its early stages.”

Dr Burger says the proposals would affect all types of farms in Southland, and because agriculture is the foundation of Southland’s economy, the changes would impact regional economic activity.

“When targets have such major impacts on the community, they need to be robust and reflect what the community wants. Having an alternative perspective on what targets may be needed, and the implications of these targets, will help start a discussion.”

Dr Burger says that farmers are already making many changes to improve water quality and are committed to continuing to lift their game in the future.

“Farmers in the Aparima catchment have been working together to develop and implement farm environment plans setting out a comprehensive series of actions they take to reduce nutrient losses and improve water quality.”

“Almost half of all dairy farms throughout New Zealand already have a farm environment plan, and all farms will have a certified plan by 2025. DairyNZ and farmers are also investing more than $18 million per year into finding new ways to reduce nutrient losses beyond good farming practice. This includes research currently underway at the Southland Dairy Hub farm.”

“However the level of nutrient reductions proposed by Environment Southland is not achievable by farmers, and could drive many people out of farming.”

Nearly 4,000 people work in the Southland dairy sector, and dairy makes a 35 percent contribution to local GDP (though direct and flow-on economic impacts).

At the request of farmers, DairyNZ is now developing an alternative perspective on how to achieve the freshwater targets. The findings will be shared with Southland farmers and Environment Southland.

“Farmers share the same goals as the Southland community. We all want to have healthy waterways, and we are not shying away from the need to be part of the solution to improving water quality,” says Dr Burger.

“We want to make sure these decisions are made using the best science we have to provide certainty to landowners about what change is needed, and what this means for our communities.”

While this continues, Dr Burger says DairyNZ are committed to continuing to work with Te Ao Marama, Environment Southland and farmers, to find pragmatic solutions which deliver on the community’s freshwater aspirations while supporting thriving farm businesses and vibrant communities.

Media contact

Allanah Jarman
Senior media specialist
DairyNZ
021 240 6614
allanah.jarman@dairynz.co.nz