Dairy farmers step up to protect NZ waterways


Dairy farmers step up to protect NZ waterways

Dairy farmers have shown their commitment to improving water quality in New Zealand by meeting all the targets set out in the Sustainable Dairying: Water Accord to date, but more work lies ahead.

Since the launch of the Water Accord in 2013, the dairy industry has fenced off nearly 25,000 kilometres of waterways around New Zealand and 98% of all (Accord) waterways have dairy cattle excluded.

DairyNZ says assessments of effluent management practices have also been carried out for 100% of dairy farms and 100% of stock crossing points have bridges or culverts to exclude dairy cows.

Contaminant risks

The push for these stock crossings followed extensive research and testing that showed livestock contribute contaminants to water bodies in and around farmlands: the four main contaminants are nitrogen, pathogens, phosphorus and sediment.

Contaminants enter waterways in several different ways, either from direct deposits of stock urine and dung into water, from run-off, drainage or leaching through soil, or from erosion and damage of banks and stream beds.

Negative impacts from these contaminants can include:

  • the stimulation of nuisance plant and algae growth causing poor water quality for drinking and recreation
  • excessive sediment which damages the natural eco-system in stream beds and waterways
  • the introduction of pathogens which can cause gastro-intestinal illness for stock and people.

Requiring all points on a waterway, where cows cross and return more than once per month, to be either bridged or culverted was one of the mandatory targets for the Water Accord but farmers are being encouraged to go further if they can.

In addition to the mandatory requirements, dairy farmers are encouraged to:

  • exclude stock from all wetlands and smaller streams where practical
  • apply these stock exclusion practices on any land used for grazing dairy cows.

“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 Alister Body, chair of the Dairy Environment Leaders Group, a multi-sector group formed to be guardians of the Accord.

Covered by culverts 

New Zealand farmers have made a massive investment in fencing to keep their stock out of waterways in and around their farms – but in many cases installation of a culvert could provide the same protections and additional benefits for less investment.

Culverts can improve efficiencies on the farm, making it easier and faster for people and stock to move around the farm particularly in the event of high water levels and flooding. Infill area above a culvert pipe line can be grassed therefore increasing production in the paddock concerned.

Introducing culverts can also reduce injuries for stock and farmworkers by creating safer crossings. Stock crossings through unstable or slippery surfaces in and around waterways present risks for falls.

According to Dairy NZ: “Well planned and constructed crossings prevent damage to the stream bed and reduce the amount of sediment, nutrients and bacteria getting into waterways. They may also improve stock health and production by reducing stress, lameness and the potential of liver fluke.”

Other Water Accord targets set for the future include a riparian management plan for all dairy farms, setting out where riparian planting is to occur and with all planting to be completed by 2030.


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