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National-scale implementation of mandatory freshwater farm plans: A mechanism to deliver water quality improvement in productive catchments in NZ?

journal contribution
posted on 2024-06-21, 03:49 authored by Katrina Macintosh, Rich McDowellRich McDowell, Aslan Wright-Stow, Craig Depree, Guy Robinson
Reducing agriculturally derived diffuse contaminant losses (via non-point sources) from land to water has proven difficult for decades. Owing to the diversity and complexity of factors controlling contaminant loss rates and pathways, regulation must be flexible and reflect farm- and region-specific variation. Environmental farm planning schemes are recognised globally as offering a tailored, farm-specific implementation tool that can assess, balance and deliver multiple environmental objectives, while empowering farmer behaviour change and development of social relationships. Nevertheless, uptake and success have been mixed internationally owing to their predominantly voluntary nature. We consider the implementation of freshwater farm plans at a national-scale and on a mandatory basis to deliver water quality reform. In a world-first approach this has recently been legislated for in New Zealand, but the implementation process is still currently being developed and finalised. We advocate that on-farm mitigation actions in freshwater farm plans should be quantitative, risk-based, and focussed on the most significant catchment water quality priorities, and their cost-effectiveness. We propose that minimum national standards and metrics are a prerequisite to ensuring auditable and time-bound outcomes, as is building the capacity, capability, and community practice required to deliver and audit them. National-scale coverage presents an opportunity to record and measure how good practice can improve water quality, but should be part of wider integrated farm planning that incorporates other elements of the farm business to add value and minimise compliance costs.


Funded by the New Zealand Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment's Our Land and Water National Science Challenge (Toitū te Whenua, Toiora te Wai) as part of project Linking Legacies to Wai


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  • English

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Journal title

Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems

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