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DairyNZ: robust science and partnerships crucial for water

DairyNZ’s submission on the proposed Essential Freshwater package identifies the solutions needed to deliver lasting improvements for water quality and ecosystem health in New Zealand, while protecting our economy.

Healthy and swimmable waterways are important to all New Zealanders, including dairy farmers, who share the same aspirations to protect our rivers, lakes and wetlands.

“DairyNZ supports targeted efforts to halt further degradation of our freshwater resources, together with improved farming practices which we know will lead to meaningful outcomes,” said DairyNZ strategy and investment leader, Dr David Burger.

“Under the Essential Freshwater proposal, there are policies we do and don’t support. Those we don’t support are due to a lack of robust supporting science linking the proposed policy to water quality outcomes, and we believe there are better ways to achieve similar results.

“Our economic impact analysis indicates these policies we don’t support could have a very significant impact on New Zealand’s GDP and export income. Addressing New Zealand’s water quality challenges also requires a collaborative approach that goes beyond simply focusing on nutrients such as nitrogen.

“We are also concerned that the Essential Freshwater package is not underpinned by a comprehensive economic assessment of impacts on the dairy sector or the broader economy, given dairy makes up nearly one-third of New Zealand’s exported goods and provides 46,000 jobs.”

DairyNZ is proposing an alternative to manage ecosystem health, based on strengthening existing standards for nitrogen toxicity to further protect sensitive indigenous species.

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“Our current scientific understanding and economic modelling indicates this is a more pragmatic way to achieve similar environmental outcomes at less cost to the economy and communities,” said Dr Burger.

“The Government and dairy farmers can work together to deliver lasting water quality gains at a more rapid pace, and at significantly less socio-economic cost than some of the current proposals.”

Dr Burger said their organisation’s submission spans key elements which will deliver for freshwater – in particular, ensuring changes are based on robust science and partnerships across government, industry and community, and will deliver enduring outcomes.

“We all have a shared vision. As New Zealanders we all want improved waterways, for today and tomorrow. In reality, dairy has been on this journey for many years, with significant changes on-farm already delivering improved environmental outcomes. We know this work must continue and it is part of our Dairy Tomorrow sector strategy.”

Economic modelling by DairyNZ shows the proposals could significantly impact New Zealand’s dairy sector and the wider national economy, and by 2050 could lead to GDP falling by up to $6 billion annually. The analysis indicates Northland, Taranaki, Waikato, Canterbury and Southland regional economies would shoulder most of the costs.

Focus needed beyond nitrogen
DairyNZ supports the implementation of more targeted efforts to immediately halt any further degradation of freshwater resources.

“We agree there are certain proposals which are a good starting point – these include sharpening the focus of the current NPS-FM; interim controls on land use intensification; a new freshwater planning process; stock exclusion of significant waterways; mandatory Farm Environment Plans and an increased focus on testing standards for swimming in summer, when people are swimming,” said Dr Burger.

“It’s also not just about nitrogen. Other contaminants drive water quality, including sediment, phosphorus and microbes such as E. coli, which are mostly associated with overland flow pathways and have significant implications for ecosystem health and swimmability.

“We believe the proposed nutrient limits for ecosystem health [national bottom lines for dissolved inorganic nitrogen and dissolved reactive phosphorus] are based on overly simplistic relationships and not supported by robust science.

“Our recommendations include reducing the existing nitrate toxicity standard from 6.9 to 3.8 g/m3 and reducing the bottom-line for ammonia toxicity from 1.3 to 0.54 g/m3.”

DairyNZ also advocates that a plan is urgently needed to progress the nutrient and water allocation discussion. “We recommend government works with the primary sector, regional councils, iwi and other interested agencies on a framework to resolve allocation issues.”

Farmers proactive for environmental outcomes
Improved environmental performance is an ongoing process, but dairy farmers have already delivered world-leading changes.

“Through the Sustainable Dairying: Water Accord our farmers made a collective, voluntary commitment to implement good management practices to lift environmental performance.”

DairyNZ’s submission is the culmination of eight weeks of intensive engagement with farmers, involving 19 national workshops, drop-in events and webinars that attracted a record turn-out of over 2,100 attendees. It also includes input from the Dairy Environment Leaders Group.

“We know thousands of farmers have provided feedback through submissions and we applaud their effort, care and passion to achieve appropriate on-farm options for positive environmental outcomes,” said Dr Burger.

“We encourage the Government to partner with DairyNZ to ensure farmers are provided with relevant, trusted advice on new regulatory obligations and pathways. That way farmers have access to reliable and affordable tools to support decision-making on-farm.”

To view DairyNZ’s full submission and economic analysis click here
To view a table summary on all DairyNZ’s positions and recommendations click here.

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