Collaboration key to success of Government’s water reforms


Fonterra is backing dairy farmers to continue improving freshwater quality while asking the Government to reconsider some of its proposals.

The Co-operative is responding to the Government’s Action Plan for Healthy Waterways.

“We support the Government’s goals to improve freshwater. Healthy freshwater is important to our country, and we believe New Zealand can have both healthy freshwater and a thriving agricultural economy,” says Charlotte Rutherford, Director of On-farm Excellence.

Dairy farmers are well-placed to build on the great work they’ve already done to improve water quality. Farmers are heading in the right direction, and we’ll back them to the hilt as they make improvements.

Charlotte Rutherford, Fonterra Director of On-farm Excellence

“There are a number of proposals we do support and will work with our farmers to help them meet these. In particular, we welcome the Government’s acknowledgement of the value of Farm Environment Plans (or FEPs) and would encourage them to go further and make them mandatory for farmers and growers. Around 23% of our farmers already have an FEP, which is a bespoke plan to help farmers live within environmental limits. 

“However, calling for 5-metre fencing setbacks and DIN bottom lines without appropriate analysis is worrying farmers.”

Specific proposals Fonterra is uncomfortable with include:
  • Forcing farmers to establish 5 metre setbacks from waterways:

“More than 98% of waterways described in the proposal are already fenced by dairy farmers, and another 12,000km of drains and smaller waterways. This proposal punishes those farmers who have proactively fenced their waterways, with little added benefit and at huge cost. Pulling these down and making farmers start again shouldn’t be a priority – getting unfenced waterways should be.

“Continuing to help farmers get Farm Environment Plans to identify areas they can improve across the whole farm will be far more effective in improving freshwater quality.”

  • Bottom lines for nitrogen and phosphorus in rivers:

This proposal doesn’t consider local contexts or ambitions, and isn’t backed up by any analysis to the economic cost to individual farmers, their communities or wider regional economies. In some parts of New Zealand, farms would have to make nitrogen reductions in excess of 50%, and we would expect robust analysis to justify this.”

Charlotte says some farmers are concerned about the arbitrary nature of these proposals.

“There is a lot of emotion on all sides of this debate, and rightly so – New Zealanders are passionate about the environment. But at the end of the day, we’re all talking about the same thing. Clean, thriving freshwater can exist alongside a thriving farming economy. We believe New Zealand should be aiming for both.

“How we get there is open for debate, but we can only do this together.”



Find out more about what Fonterra farmers are doing to improve water.