We will protect and nurture the environment for future generations

In New Zealand we are known for our rich and diverse landscapes.  The sustainable management and protection of our resources and natural environment is a responsibility that farmers, with their close connection to the land and water, care deeply about and have been actively working towards for many years.

The Dairy Tomorrow Strategy commits the sector to working with farmers and other industry stakeholders to successfully adopt good farming practices that meet the environmental needs of the catchment or location where they farm. 

The two key areas of focus for this commitment are:

  • improving water quality and biodiversity
  • reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

These issues are not new. The dairy sector has long been committed to farming within environmental limits and has made significant progress over the years. New Zealand dairy farmers are the world’s most sustainable dairy farmers and continuing progress here will help strengthen this position.


  • Lead efforts to improve the health of our rivers and streams and protect and enhance biodiversity, beginning in 2018 with collaboration with other rural and urban land users, central and local government and communities on strategies and actions toward achieving swimmable waterways.
  • Lead efforts on agriculture’s contribution to meeting New Zealand’s climate change goals through identifying and implementing strategies to reduce or offset greenhouse gas emissions from dairy farming.
  • With communities, government and other land users, develop a blueprint for a 50 year vision of sustainable land use in New Zealand by 2025.
  • By 2025, achieve all farms implementing and reporting under certified farm sustainability plans.

Water quality

The dairy sector has a long history of environmental action.  Beginning with the Dairy Clean Streams Accord in 2003, followed by the 2013 Dairy Water Accord.  In 2018 the environmental focus gained cross-sector commitment with the adoption of the Good Farming Practice Action Plan for Water Quality, which aims to achieve swimmable rivers and improve ecological health of waterways through widespread adoption of good farming practices.

Past actions and principles continue to be refined and improved, as part of the sector-wide Dairy Tomorrow Strategy.

Find out more about the Good Farming Action Plan here.

Water quality progress

The Dairy Tomorrow Strategy continues to work towards meeting environmental goals for water quality through a range of initiatives and a commitment to:

“Lead efforts to improve the health of our rivers and streams and protect and enhance biodiversity, beginning in 2018 with collaboration with other rural and urban land users, central and local government and communities on strategies and actions toward achieving swimmable waterway”

To achieve this we have committed to:

  • regularly revising and updating National Good Farming Practice Principles,
  • developing a system for monitoring and reporting on GFP uptake
  • identifying key principles and water quality concerns for a region and/or catchment to support targeted uptake of GFP,
  • supporting every dairy farmer to have a Farm Environment Plan by 2025,
  • accelerating uptake through targeted extension programmes,
  • strengthening information on tools available to all farmers and
  • communicating progress to communities, councils and central government.

Our aspirations align with those sought through national objectives as outlined in the Good Farming Practice Action Plan for Water Quality – a cross-sector commitment to achieve swimmable rivers and improve ecological health of waterways through widespread adoption of good farming practices.

While the commitment takes a cross-sector approach, dairy farmers have had a vision of farming within environmental limits for many years.

The  Sustainable Dairy: Water Accord adopted by the dairy sector in 2013 was one of New Zealand’s biggest hands-on environmental efforts.  It was preceded by the 2003 Dairying Clean Streams Accord , an agreement between Fonterra, central government and regulators.  The goal was to achieve clean, healthy water in dairying areas.

Taken together, the ongoing focus on water quality over the years has created a wave of change on dairy farms across the country and has made a  significant contribution to improving water quality.  Past and current activities continue to be refined and improved, as part of the sector-wide Dairy Tomorrow Strategy.

Find out more about the Water Accord achievements here.

Essential Freshwater

Consultation on the Essential Freshwater package was held by the government in late 2019.  The proposals contained a raft of changes for the management of New Zealand’s freshwater including setting nutrient limits, interim controls on intensification, and new practice standards for agriculture. The proposals suggest new regulations for stock exclusion, winter grazing, limiting nitrogen use, stock holding areas and feedlots.

The dairy tomorrow partnership has an important role in advocating for dairy farmers regarding any future legislative changes relating to freshwater and in assisting farmers (with easy to use and proven tools and guidance) to meet any future requirements, including supporting farmers to have a Farm Environment Plan in place by 2025.

In May 2020, the government announced the outcome of their Essential Freshwater policy consultation.  You can find a summary of these outcomes and related information here.

Good farming practice scorecards

A Good Farming Practice Scorecard (GFP-S) is being developed to assist farmers to measure their strengths and areas for improvement on farm.  The scorecard includes a range of water quality measures based on the Action Plan for Water Quality principles.  At a farm level it provides prioritisation of where effort should be focussed based on the landscape, climatic and main environmental pressures, and reports on how much progress has been made.

The scorecard will identify the risks associated with specific catchments and farms and will provide a range of appropriate actions for the farmer to take to mitigate the risks and improve their water quality outcomes.  Over time, as individual actions are completed on-farm, we can expect to see water quality to continue to improve at the catchment, regional and national level.  In addition to tracking progress this will also allow us to take an integrated approach across the entire farm business and enable better future planning.


Large scale, catchment-wide projects

A group of Southland farmers have united to tackle water quality issues in the Aparima Catchment.  All 600 properties, of which 218 are dairy farms, will develop Farm Environment Plans (FEP) and, through modelling and monitoring, the actions of every farm plan will be linked to water quality outcomes.

A key focus will be applying Good Farming Practice principles and industry guidelines for planting and feeding winter crops to reduce the amount of sediment entering the river network and Jacobs Estuary. This includes taking steps to reduce surface runoff, protecting critical source areas and careful stock management.

Find out more about this project here.


A group of Canterbury dairy farmers are leading the way in showcasing how to protect local waterways while meeting nitrogen loss limits and maintaining profitable businesses under the Canterbury Land & Water Regional Plan (LWRP).

The project builds on sustainable farming initiatives many farmers to have already begun and aims to give farmers in the Hinds and Selwyn catchment confidence that the limits are achievable.

DairyNZ is working alongside partner farms to identify the most appropriate solutions for them, taking into consideration their chosen production systems, goals, and aspirations. The information generated from these partner farms will be shared with other farmers and will provide a range of options and workable examples for their use.

Find out more about this project here.


The Tararua Plantain Project is a seven-year plan to test the benefits of plantain on 125 dairy farms who are faced with reducing nitrogen leaching by an average of 60 percent to meet the targets in the Horizons Regional Council One Plan.

Plantain cultivars can reduce soil nitrogen concentration under cows’ urine patches. This allows plants to take up a greater proportion of nitrogen, reducing nitrogen leaching (estimated to be between 5 and 30 percent, depending on soil type and the proportion of plantain in the cows’ diet).

Testing the benefits of plantain in local pastures is at the heart of the project. Paddock-scale research has begun on six local farms and the findings will be shared with other farmers in the area.

Find out more about this project here.

Climate change

He Waka Eke Noa is a high-level vision and commitment by the primary sector to work with government and iwi/Māori to reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions at farm level by 2025.  It aims to do this by developing an emissions reporting framework, building pricing incentives into the framework, capturing on-farm sequestration, and having Farm Environment Plans for all farms by 2025 to ensure every farmer knows their emissions footprint, where those emissions are coming from, and what they can do to manage them. An extension and science programme has been developed to support adoption and improve the performance of NZ farms.

The sector will work in good faith with government and iwi/Māori to design a practical and cost-effective system for reducing emissions at farm level by 2025, as part of a broader framework to support on-farm practice change that contributes to lower global emissions.

The 5-year programme will ensure NZ farmers and growers have the knowledge and tools they need to deliver emissions reductions while maintaining profitability.

How we will do this

The agricultural sector has committed to:

  • Delivering a system for estimating and benchmarking farm level greenhouse gas emissions. Many milk supply companies are already on the way to implementing this
  • Rolling out Integrated Farm Environment Plans, covering emissions reductions, offsets and adaptation, to all farmers by 2025. These will build on (NOT duplicate) the plans currently being developed to address water quality improvements.
  • Building climate change mitigation knowledge and practice amongst farmers
  • Increased support for investment in research, development and commercialisation to expand the tools and technologies available for emission reductions
  • Encouraging innovation and early adoption of tools and practices
  • Engaging with the 1 billion trees programme consistent with the ‘right tree in the right place’ approach.
  • Delivering region-and sector-specific adaptation guidance that can be incorporated into Farm Environment Plans
  • Working with government to develop appropriate pricing mechanisms
  • Demonstrating leadership globally to encourage momentum on agricultural emissions reduction and meet the expectations of our markets.

Find out more about He Waka Eke Noa.

Major achievements

  • Dairy Water Accord 5-year synthesis report published and transition plan towards meeting Dairy Tomorrow implemented
  • Development of metrics and reporting framework to report on water quality and environmental footprint at the catchment, regional and national scale, aligned to the principles identified through the Good Farming Practice Action Plan for Water Quality
  • Development of a national accounting framework to quantify contaminant loss from dairying and other land
  • Embarking on a programme to ensure that all farmers have a Farm Environment Plan by 2025, and that these plans cover both water quality and GHGs, are risk-based, and define time-bound actions to minimise or eliminate risks
  • The establishment of three catchment-scale case studies to demonstrate adaptive and rapid environmental change
  • Ongoing development of mitigation guidance (e.g., seepage wetlands, constructed wetlands, detainment bunds, bioreactors)
  • Plants for Good planting programme
  • Sustainable Catchments
Integrated Farm Planning
  • Development of a framework is underway to more efficiently link and integrating all aspects of the farm business
  • Identifies key info (measures) across each domain, identifies performance against each, identifies risk to prioritise work, uses IFP as a tool to help prioritise both within and across domains, puts a plan in place, develops a mechanism that allows reporting without needing farmer to provide same info multiple times. 
Greenhouse gas emissions
  • The establishment of the Government Industry Agreement to reduce agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at farm level through He Waka Eka Noa
  • Training of >60 rural professionals and 15 climate change ambassadors to support farmers and policy development
  • 10 partnership farms established across NZ to demonstrate emission reductions through farm system changes
The Vision is Clear: Lets improve our waterways

In 2018, DairyNZ launched a movement to inspire all Kiwis, both urban and rural, to get involved in looking after New Zealand’s rivers, streams, lakes and beaches.

The campaign showcases the work happening all around the country to improve water quality and encourages every New Zealander to take action and make a difference.

Find out more here.

Explore our commitments