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 drive environmental outcomes at catchment, regional and national levels. 

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 among the world’s most sustainable dairy farmers and continuing progress through our Dairy Tomorrow commitments will continue to strengthen this position.


  • By 2025 achieve all farms implementing and reporting under a farm environment plan.
  • Lead the dairy sector’s efforts to improve the health of our rivers and streams and protect and enhance biodiversity, in collaboration with other rural and urban land users, central and local government and communities on strategies and actions towards achieving healthy waterways.
  • Lead the dairy sector’s contribution to supporting New Zealand’s climate change goals through contributing to the development of practices, knowledge, and technologies to support farmers to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

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.

Following the Water Accord, the dairy sector launched the Dairy Tomorrow strategy. It outlines our commitment to protect and nurture the environment for future generations. The Dairy Tomorrow – Protecting our Environment report sets out the dairy sector’s goals and actions to improve waterways and reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the strategy. A focus on delivering continuous improvement through good farming practices and Farm Environment Plans will help improve water quality, identify where further, targeted work is needed, and help identify any additional support farmers need. You can track our progress 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.

Good farming practice status

A Good Farming Practice framework (GFP-S) has been developed to assist farmers to identify and take the environmental actions that will bring the best outcomes through their Farm Environment Plans, while enabling them to continue running a successful business. It gives farmers clarity on how they’re performing, where more work is needed, and how they are tracking.

The(GFP) framework sets out clear requirements farmers need to achieve to meet good farming practice. It links farmers to guidance and advice and helps us understand how the sector is tracking towards meeting GFP. It’s ambitious – we don’t expect all farmers to be at GFP immediately. GFPs focus on 10 key areas for environmental management. Dairy companies, DairyNZ and farm advisers will work with farmers to support them on this journey.  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.

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.  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.  The majority of all 600 properties, of which 218 are dairy farms, have developed Farm Environment Plans (FEP) and, through modelling and monitoring, the actions of every farm will be linked to water quality outcomes.

A key focus has been 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 the Selwyn-Hinds project.


Plantain is a feed crop with a coarse root structure that has been shown to reduce the leaching of nitrogen. The national $22 million Plantain Potency
and Practice Programme is focusing on proving plantain’s effectiveness at reducing nitrogen leaching. It aims to give farmers confidence to invest in

The programme uses Ecotain® environmental plantain, and an evaluation system will be developed to assess the environmental benefits of all plantain
types. Field trials and partner farms across the country are generating data on production and quality, which will help develop management guidelines.

Find out more about the Tararua project, which led to the broader Potency and Practice Programme.

Low N

A seven-year research programme is underway to reduce nitrogen leaching from dairy farms. The programme includes modelling and then testing technologies within different catchments and regions to deliver transformational reductions.

Edge of Field mitigation research – wetlands, bioreactors and detainment bunds

DairyNZ, NIWA, and dairy companies are funding implementation and studies on the effectiveness of a range of ‘edge of field’ mitigation tools, to treat contaminants before they leave the farm. We’re partnering to monitor constructed wetlands throughout the country and supporting a number of bioreactor trials to determine how well they perform. Bioreactors are pits filled with bark that support denitrification – the process by which nitrogen from water is removed by naturally occurring denitrifying bacteria and then converted into harmless atmospheric nitrogen gas as part of the respiration process.

We’re also working with partners to understand how detainment bunds can reduce sediment, Phosphorous, and bacteria levels.


The Pōkaiwhenua catchment project will work directly with Raukawa Charitable Trust to build a scientific understanding of the ecosystem and cultural health attributes of the awa. The knowledge will inform the community, including iwi and local land owners (through the Pōkaiwhenua catchment group), as they implement catchment-wide work initiatives centred around improving freshwater and biodiversity outcomes. Through the sharing and exchanging of Matauranga Māori and science, this project will address issues surrounding Pōkaiwhenua and inform the community of the best tools and approaches within the catchment to achieve the community objectives.

South Canterbury

This project will focus on dairy farm systems change to reduce nitrogen loss (in anticipation of the likely N loss reduction targets in Plan Change 7 of the Canterbury Land and Water Regional plan) while preserving business resilience and considering the co-benefits for reducing GHGs and other impacts on water quality.

The co-development approach will upskill rural professionals and farmers by supporting a process where farmers, rural professionals, and scientists work together to identify viable options on ‘partner farms’ to reduce farm N losses while meeting farm business goals and obligations and demonstrating progress.


The Waimea catchment project will work directly with influential catchment partners including Te Ao Marama Inc, Thriving Southland, Environment Southland, and the Balfour catchment group through a co-development approach to demonstrate the change that can be achieved at a farm level while meeting both farm and community objectives. Implementation options on partner farms will include a combination of farm system change, good management practices (GMP), and edge-of-field mitigations contributing on a cumulative basis towards environmental improvement.

The project will focus on farm system analysis and change adoption, using learnings from DairyNZ levy-funded (and wider) research projects including local research knowledge stemming from the Southern Dairy Hub research project.

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 was developed to support adoption and improve the performance of NZ farms.

The sector continues to 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.

How we will do this

Through He Waka Eke Noa the agricultural sector committed to:

  • Delivering a system for estimating and benchmarking farm level greenhouse gas emissions. Many milk supply companies are already implementing this.
  • Rolling out 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.
  • 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.
  • Dairy Tomorrow Protecting our Environment report published and environmental commitments defined and implemented.
  • Dairy Tomorrow The Power of Partnerships Sustainability Report published highlighting the ‘behind the farm gate’ sustainability journey of New Zealand’s dairy farms.
  • Dairy Tomorrow Sustainability Dashboard published highlighting progress against our sustainability goals, targets and limits.
  • 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 six 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 initiative.
Integrated Farm Planning
  • With Government and other primary sectors, development of a framework to more efficiently link and integrate 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.

Explore our commitments