Farm management for healthy waterways

Keeping our waterways healthy is an important focus for MPI and industry. Find out about stock exclusion, riparian planting and how you can help protect our freshwater resources.


Play your part

Farmers and growers have an important role to play in protecting the quality of our waterways. Stock access, soil erosion, overuse of fertiliser, and nutrients from animal waste all affect water quality and ecosystems.

Some of the ways you can reduce the effects of farming practices on fresh waterways include stock exclusion and riparian planting.

Excluding stock from waterways

Stock can cause serious damage to waterways. They:

  • damage riparian vegetation
  • defecate in waterways – a direct source of pathogens (bacteria or other microorganisms that cause disease)
  • damage breeding grounds and habitats of native fish and aquatic insects
  • spread weeds
  • increase sediment which smothers stream beds
  • increase nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen which can promote algal blooms.

Excluding stock from waterways is also beneficial to stock. It can reduce occurrences of injury, sickness and death related to waterway access – especially during times of bad weather.

DairyNZ's website has useful resources and tips for fencing farm waterways.

Infographic from DairyNZ showing proper waterway management and benefits to farm
Infographic from DairyNZ showing proper waterway management and benefits to farmers.

Riparian strip planting

Riparian zones are areas of land bordering freshwater areas – lakes, streams, wetlands and rivers. They are a transitional link between dry and damp areas of soil. If you have waterways on your farm, fencing stock out and planting in riparian zones is a great way of improving water quality and enhancing habitat.

Riparian strip planting is helpful for:

  • erosion control
  • wildlife habitat maintenance
  • water filtration and pollution control.

DairyNZ and Landcare Research have developed a riparian planner tool to help farmers plan and budget for riparian planting. The tool covers most forms of farming, including dairy, sheep, beef, deer, forestry, horticulture and cropping.

Riparian planting is tax deductible and many regional councils offer financial support for riparian planting projects. Talk to your regional council to see what support may be available.

Help and advice

For help to improve the quality of your waterways, talk to your local:

  • council land manager
  • council sustainability officer
  • industry body representative.

Industry programmes

Government, iwi and industry bodies recognise the importance of working together to drive clean water initiatives in New Zealand. If you're a farmer or land owner, contact your industry body to find out how you can help.

Sustainable Dairying: Water Accord

The Sustainable Dairying: Water Accord was launched by the dairy industry in 2013. It is a collaborative work by industry bodies, supported by Government, aimed at changing on-farm behaviour to help protect New Zealand's fresh waterways.

Specifically, the accord commits to improving fresh water through:

  • planting plans
  • stock waste management
  • environmental building standards
  • improving how water and fertiliser is used on farms.

Land & Water Forum

The Land & Water Forum is a not-for-profit organization that unites industry bodies, iwi and regulators. They meet regularly to discuss the future of fresh water management and how they and their members can contribute.

In 2015, as part of its fourth report, the forum recommended excluding livestock from waterways on plains and low hills.

All the forum's reports are publicly available.

Why we need healthy waterways

Protecting the health of our waterways is the responsibility of all New Zealanders. Healthy fresh water is essential for a thriving economy.

It is used to sustain crops, pastures and stock, generate hydro-electric energy, and attract overseas tourists to our unique landscapes. Our rivers, streams and lakes also provide us with safe drinking water, enable recreational activities such as fishing, swimming, and boating, and support ecosystems that are home to many of New Zealand’s native species.

Farmers and growers are already great stewards of the land. It is equally important that they are great stewards of our waterways. Farmers have already put in countless hours and dollars into improving practices, upgrading infrastructure, fencing and excluding stock, and planting wetlands and riparian buffers.

Types of waterways

  • Rivers and streams – continuously or intermittently flowing body of water including modified watercourses. Does not include artificial watercourses such as irrigation canals or farm drains.
  • Lakes – body of fresh water which is entirely or nearly surrounded by land.
  • Wetlands – permanently or intermittently wet areas, shallow water, and land water margins that support a natural ecosystem of plants and animals that are adapted to wet conditions.

Find out more

Who to contact

If you have questions about the information on this page, email info@mpi.govt.nz

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