NZ farmers admit waterway protections 'not enough'

A special group of farmers are taking a stand against river pollution from agriculture.

New Zealand's farmers have long been criticised for not protecting waterways from the environmental repercussions of their industry.

The quality of New Zealand's waterways is suffering due, in part, to the intensification of farming, and on Tuesday, for the first time, farming leaders promised to assist in making rivers "swimmable" for future generations. 

Many low-lying rivers are being polluted and the agriculture industry, in particular beef and dairy farming, take a fair share of the blame.

But while it's easy to lay the blame on dairy farming and agricultural industries, all New Zealanders play a part in contributing to the poor state of our waterways.

While high intensive dairy farming is one of the causes, dry stock farming animals for meat and wool is much more widespread.

Other factors to consider with river pollution include land and river-based industries like milling, invasive species of fish and plants, and climate change having a major effect as waterways heat up.

Recently, the Government announced a target of making 90 percent of lakes and rivers swimmable by 2040.

At the time of the announcement, Environment Minister Nick Smith dismissed criticism of the plan, which is essentially to fence off all waterways from livestock by 2030, and change the criteria of what swimmable water is as 'junk science'.

On Tuesday, Federated Farmers President Katie Milne said they were "committed to swimmable rivers for our children and grandchildren. And when we say swimmable, we mean swimmable".

Sheep and beef farmer Mike Petersen said they were putting their hands up to do more. 

"We're saying in the past maybe our words and our actions haven't been enough. We're saying today as a pastoral sector, we're going to do more."

Fonterra director of social responsibility Carolyn Mortland said they needed to be clear about what outcomes they want: "Swimmable rivers, less run-off from farms and better management of water."

But while farmers say they need to do more, they didn't say what, or how, and some environmentalists believe their pledge lacks substance. 

The Greens say while the pledge is a start, they want direct action.

Spokesperson for the Environment Eugenie Sage said they needed "a commitment to meaningful measures, stronger laws, stricter limits on pollution and lower cow numbers."

Ms Mortland said they set minimum standards for their farmers, and that every Fonterra farmer has to fence their waterways or manage their effluent system.

But the fact of the matter is that all sides agree on one thing: we have to save our waterways for future generations.