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Five years of Water Accord shows farmers doing their bit

Five years of Water Accord shows dairy farmers doing their bit to improve water quality

One of New Zealand’s biggest hands-on environmental efforts has created a wave of change on dairy farms across the country and is contributing to progress in improving water quality.

Today, the Sustainable Dairy: Water Accord farmers and partners announced their achievements to date, including:

• fencing off dairy cattle from 24,249km (98.3%) of significant dairy accord waterways (waterways which are more than one metre wide and more than 30cm deep). That's the equivalent of nearly 12 road trips from Cape Reinga to Bluff. Excluding stock from waterways is one of the most beneficial ways to improve water quality

• installing bridges and culverts on 100% of stock crossing points dairy cows use

• preparing 10,396 nutrient budgets – up from 6,400 budgets in the first year of the Accord. Nutrient budgets allow farmers to carefully plan nutrient applications and manage nutrient losses

• assessing 100% of Accord farms for effluent management practices – this process checks that farms have appropriate infrastructure and systems in place to manage effluent

• developing riparian management plans to protect water quality on 52% of Accord farms with waterways.

The Sustainable Dairy: Water Accord was signed in 2013 and represents a five-year voluntary commitment from New Zealand’s dairy farmers, DairyNZ, dairy processors and supporting partners to take a range of actions to improve New Zealand’s waterways.

Through the Dairy Tomorrow Strategy - which the Accord will transition into – the dairy sector has made a strong commitment that they will continue to work with communities, councils and government to lead work to improve waterways.

Alister Body, chair of the Dairy Environment Leaders Group, a multi-sector group formed to be guardians of the Accord, says that the Water Accord has seen dairy farmers across the country make a range of on-farm changes to improve their environmental management.

“Over 11,000 dairy farmers are part of the Accord. They pulled on their gumboots and put in many thousands of hours of time and made significant investment to help improve water quality,” says Mr Body.

“The Water Accord is one of the factors contributing to the measurable improvements in many waterways we have seen occur recently,” says Mr Body. “As ecosystems take some time to respond to changes on the ground we can expect to see further improvements to water quality as a result of the changes made on farms over the past five years.”

“While we have made improvements in a number of areas, we know that we still have more work to do – particularly in the area of effluent management. While the accord targets were met a minority of farmers are letting everyone else down and need to improve their performance. Dairy companies will continue to work with these farmers to improve their effluent management practices,” he adds.

Land, Air, Water Aotearoa’s (LAWA) most recent analysis of national river quality trends from 2008 to 2017 showed that for eight out of the nine water quality indicators reported on, more monitored sites were improving than degrading.

Mr Body says that many types of activities affect urban and rural waterways in New Zealand, and that dairy farmers are committed to playing their part in improving our water quality.

“We all use our rivers, and we all want to protect them for our future. Although we can be proud of what has been achieved so far, we all acknowledge that there is more to be done to improve ecosystem health and water quality for all New Zealanders,” he adds.

Andy Palmer and Sharon Collett from Temuka have been progressively developing planting on their farm over the past twenty years. They are just two of the thousands of farmers who have been taking action to improve water quality.

Today, flourishing riparian planting stretches along about three kilometres of the creek on their farm. Nearly 4,000 plants have been established on the farm, and the couple are continuing to add to this every year, with support from Environment Canterbury. The couple have also fenced off all the waterways on their property, and worked with their former sharemilkers who now own a neighbouring dairy farm to plant native species on a coastal wetland bordering their farms. The wetland is home to Canterbury’s only known population of the native giant kōkopu fish.

Mr Palmer says that he is fully behind the Water Accord and that today the environmental management requirements in the Accord are very much ‘business as usual’ for farmers.

“We have a Farm Environment Plan now which covers planting, fencing, effluent and nutrient management. With the plan in place we will continue to take good care of the environment and waterways on our farm and we are audited on our progress,” Mr Palmer says.

The Water Accord partners are:

• DairyNZ

• Fonterra

• Open Country

• Miraka

• Synlait

• Tatua

• DCANZ (Dairy Companies Association of New Zealand)

• Oceania Dairy

Supporting partners are:

• The Fertiliser Association

• Ravensdown

• Ballance Agri-Nutrients

• Federated Farmers

• IrrigationNZ

• New Zealand Institute of Primary Industry Management

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