'It shows the dairy sector has work to do': Dairy industry reacts to damning water quality report

An industry group representing dairy farmers says a damning new report on the state of freshwater in farming regions is an honest insight into New Zealand's environment - and where the challenges lie ahead.

An independent report by the Ministry for the Environment has revealed it's high in faecal bacteria.

The Environment Aotearoa 2019 report also said rivers, lakes and groundwater in farming areas have highly elevated levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and fine sediment, compared to levels in areas of native forest.

David Burger, strategic leader for DairyNZ's environmental portfolio, said while the report shows the dairy sector has work to do, farmers are working hard to look after the environment - with significant work already undertaken over the past 10  years.

"The Environment Aotearoa report helps us understand the changes over time. There are some areas where more work needs to happen or where current initiatives will take time to deliver results."

He said the Dairy Tomorrow sector strategy, launched in 2017, includes a strong commitment by dairy to protect and nurture the environment for future generations, including leading efforts to improve river and stream health, and enhance biodiversity.

"As part of the strategy we are developing a 50-year vision for sustainable dairy land use in New Zealand.

"Dairy farmers, individually and as a coordinated sector, strive every day to protect the environment. Many dairy farmers are working incredibly hard on their farms and in their communities to turn around the effects of many years ago, as science and research has begun providing greater understanding of our environment.

"Water quality is a big one for us but we all have to acknowledge it is a really complex issue, as also highlighted by the report. In any New Zealand waterway, there are contaminants from multiple sources and each catchment is different  neighbouring land use, soil and land type, the key issues and the how each waterway functions are all part of finding the right solution."

DairyNZ is working with catchments nationwide where farmers are making changes to improve local waterways.

"Improving environmental impacts caused through land changes over the last 150 years isn't a quick fix and solutions aren't a one-size-fits-all approach. Identifying the right way to meet community expectations takes time to research the contributing factors and find the right solution."

Dr Burger said the Environment Aotearoa 2019 report is an opportunity for everyone to think how to better the environment.

"We have thousands of passionate dairy farmers and a sector which is committed to continuing to reduce its impacts and be sustainable milk producers."

"We all have a part to play - urban, rural, north and south, and the dairy sector is no different. We care about the environment, our waterways and climate change just as much as anyone else."