Many parts of New Zealand may be past the 'agricultural tipping point' according to author and ecologist Mike Joy, who says our agriculture system needs to undergo drastic changes.
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"We need to face the fact that we have way too many cows in this country, for a start, and that's a big part of our problem," he told Newshub Nation.
Mr Joy is the author "From the Mountains to the Sea" a new book analysing New Zealand's freshwater crisis, its causes and possible solutions.
"It's a crisis because we've got severely polluted water in most of our lowland areas. I mean, whatever standard you use, we stack up really, really bad.
"In some cases, like 75 percent of our native fish on the threatened species list, it's hard to imagine how it could be much worse."
Mr Joy says there needs to be a strong push towards more plant based diets, pointing out that 98 percent of the biomass of mammals on earth are humans and the animals we eat.
Land, Air, Water Aotearoa’s recently published 10-year trend report, said water quality at most fresh water sites is improving, but Mr Joy says the measurements are misleading.
“And you've got to remember that LAWA is the regional councils' kind of PR front for all of their data, and they've got a job to protect the environment. They're reporting on themselves."
Mr Joy is also sceptical of claims by Fonterra that 99.6 percent of permanent waterways are fenced off from cattle.
"So, their 99.6 percent of waterways is what they define as a waterway, which is wider than a stride and deeper than a Red Band. And so the ones that aren't included, which is probably 50 percent of them, are the ones where most of the pathogens come from,
"So, we've got the very clear science showing that 75 percent of the pathogens come in those smaller streams that don't meet their requirement. And that is such a classic example of their spin."
The ecologist says moving to less dairy intensive methods of farming can actually be better for both the environment and the agricultural economy.
"By reducing 20 percent of the cows off most of the farms in New Zealand, it would actually make the farmer more money, and that's because they're marginal cows. They're not making you any more money; they're just costing you money to feed them."
Mr Joy says even form a purely economic perspective, it makes sense to move quickly to protect our water.
"The biggest value-add we have, the most important thing for our exports is our clean, green image...that's the most valuable thing to us, and we're imperilling that at the moment."
However despite promises from the government of a new environmental standard for fresh water to be in place by 2020, Mr Joy is tempering his expectations.
"They're saying all the right things. I've had my heart broken too many times by politicians to be caught up in the excitement."