Questions we get asked


The top 3 questions we often get asked about water

1. Has dairy farming caused water quality issues in New Zealand?

  • Water quality is degrading in some areas, particularly urban centres and lowland pastoral areas. 
  • A range of factors have contributed to this situation, including increased storm water runoff in cities, and greater agricultural intensity in pastoral areas.
  • Dairy farming uses land intensively. We’ve worked on making pasture as productive as possible and milking cows need to graze within walking distance of the milking shed. This means they use a relatively small amount of land compared to other kinds of animal that are farmed.  

2.    What is Fonterra doing to reduce the impact of pollutants (including effluent) leeching into waterways?

  •  Dairy farmers have spent over $1 billion on environmental initiatives over the last five years.
  • We have a way to go, but here’s what we’ve done so far:
    • First, our farmers focused on improving effluent systems to ensure effluent was kept out of waterways.
    • Next, they fenced 97% of significant rivers and streams and put in bridges to keep stock out of waterways
  • Now we’re working on the harder stuff.
    • We are equipping our farmers with nutrient reports that track cow numbers, soil type, paddocks used, crops fed and weather conditions. This will enable farmers to manage their farms in a way which reduces nutrient loss into the environment.
    • To further reduce nutrient loss and E-coli getting into streams, we’ve developed a riparian planting plan app to so farmers know where and what to plant their streams with.
  • For all new dairy farm conversions the owners need to put in place best practice mitigations right from the outset.

3.    Is all this making a difference to water quality?

  • Fonterra farmers have prioritised making improvements to effluent management, fencing waterways and now riparian planting because, based on the best available science, these are the actions that will make the biggest difference to our water ways.
  • Some water ways have already started improving when we look at E-coli, phosphorus and/or sediment levels.
    • Despite this, there are some negative trends around nitrate and total nitrogen levels. This is a particular challenge in some lowland waterways, as a result of the increased intensity of land use in those water catchments.
  • Regional Councils are starting to address this by putting in place measures to reduce nutrient losses in catchments that are at-risk or over their limits, and Fonterra supports this.