web analytics

The NZIER Report on dairying and fresh water

Written By: - Date published: 8:47 am, September 20th, 2019 - 19 comments
Categories: farming, farming, water - Tags: , ,

Press Release from NZIER

Getting the balance right : The effect of water quality proposals on the New Zealand economy

16 September 2019

NZIER report to the New Zealand Fish and Game Council, Forest and Bird and Greenpeace.

Many of New Zealand’s waterways are now degraded.

A major and growing source of this degradation is the leaching of nutrients – nitrogen and phosphorous – from intensive dairy farming.

The government is proposing regulations…

The government has released a discussion document that details proposals to address this situation. Some of these proposals will place restrictions on farming activity in the form of limits on the amount of nutrients that can leach into the soil.

…which will likely spur innovation

Experience here and overseas with environmental regulation is that often unimagined innovations result, reducing the costs and increasing the effectiveness of those regulations. But innovation is bigger than big inventions or new technology. At the farm level, it includes adopting advanced management practices already used on the best farms.

The dairy sector is one part of a growing economy

While output from the dairy sector has been increasing, looking below the top-line figures of gross export receipts reveals a nuanced picture of its direct contribution to the New Zealand economy.

Between 1991 and 2017, the average combined direct contribution of dairy farming and dairy manufacturing was 3.09% of GDP. It is now about the same size as the tourism sector.

Since 1945, the total number of people employed in the agriculture sector has stayed largely stable.

In 2013, farmers and farm managers represented 2.92% of the national workforce, while farm, forestry and garden workers represented a further 2.26%.

Likely impact on national GDP

Due to the relatively small size of the dairy industry, the impacts of the government reforms are unlikely to be major at the national level, and not felt for many years due to the long lead in times proposed.

A reduction in GDP from intensive dairy would, however, have uneven local effects, given the regional distribution of the sector.

The dairy sector has, however, been changing

There was been a marked shift in farming away from beef and sheep towards dairy, especially in the South Island. Irrigation and fertiliser use have also increased dramatically.

The combined result has been a steady increase in the amount of nitrogen from dairy farms leaching into waterways.

Getting the balance right

Tighter regulation of water quality will have costs as well as benefits.

New Zealand does not face stark choices between having a dairy sector versus having clean waterways. Experience shows that, by focusing on profits, not production, farms can increase their economic returns and reduce their impact on the environment.

New Zealand’s best farms are already doing this.
There are, however, some places where even the most efficient dairy farming will have an adverse environmental impact.

The government should be providing more information

As it works through the reform process, the government should be focusing on further study of the following areas:

  • The behavioural responses of farmers to regulation.
  • How well good management practice is being taken up.
  • The barriers to changing behaviour.
  • The level of compliance to the new policies and regulations.
  • The performance of Councils in implementing, monitoring and enforcing the new policies and regulations.
  • The current distribution of farm profitability.
  • The relationship between soil types and nutrient leaching.

The results of this work should be made readily available to farmers, councils and the general public.


Press Release from Greenpeace

by Gen Toop 17 September 2019

New Zealand’s new fresh water regulation rules will have no major impacts on the national economy, according to an independent report just out.

The report by independent economic consultancy New Zealand Institute of Economic Research shows that dairying represents about 3% of national GDP and is behind tourism in export earnings.

The study, commissioned by Forest & Bird, Greenpeace, and Fish and Game, found the impact on national GDP of the proposed reforms were unlikely to be major, stating that: “Due to the relatively small size of the dairy industry, the impacts of the government reforms are unlikely to be major at the national level, and not felt for many years due to the long lead in times proposed.”

It found that in 2013, farmers and farm managers represented 2.92% of the national workforce, while farm, forestry and garden workers represented a further 2.26%.

The NZIER report states that “Experience shows that by focusing on profits, not production, farms can increase their economic returns and reduce their impact on the environment.”

Forest & Bird’s Fresh Water Advocate, Annabeth Cohen says “The contribution of dairying to GDP does not account for the destruction to rivers, lakes and wetlands and the billions of dollars spent cleaning up the mess from intensive dairying and poor farm practices.

“The real backbone of the economy is the environment. Most importantly a clean environment provides the essentials – the air we breathe, the water we drink and mahinga kai.

“Our precious freshwater fish, birds, and invertebrates are priceless,” Ms Cohen says.

Greenpeace campaigner Gen Toop said the report comes at a crucial moment for New Zealand’s rivers, as the Government is currently consulting on new freshwater rules.

“This report should put an end to the exaggerated claims that new water rules will end pastoral farming or have a major impact on New Zealand’s economy.”

“Far from ‘throwing farmers under the tractor’ the report reveals that new rules to protect our rivers will likely spur greater innovation in farming to reduce its environmental impact,” Ms Toop says.

It adds that the ‘New Zealand farming community is proud of its tradition of innovation, and there is no reason to suppose it will not rise to the challenges of the new environmental rules.’

The study was commissioned to show the relative size of the farming sector within the New Zealand economy and to gauge the potential impacts of the freshwater reforms announced earlier this month.

A copy of the report can be found here


Front page image of Geraldine organic dairy Clearwater Farm

19 comments on “The NZIER Report on dairying and fresh water ”

  1. marty mars 1

    imo Be good to think some farmers would step up, stop moaning and thinking just of themselves, and rejoin the solution side of the equation instead of the problem side.

    Good, caring farmers can lead their less enlightened associates to the way forward. I really hope the heel dragging farmers make an effort and give it a go – the public tolerance for that not happening is fast declining. They need to get on the truck before they get a hurry up.

  2. Kevin 2

    Is anyone aware of any study into the long term effects of pouring of millions of tonnes of Superphospate on to New Zealand pasture for the past 80-odd years?

    Nutrient leaching is almost considered a relatively new problem but this has been going on for a very long time.

    • weka 2.1

      I don't know what research has been done but this is the fundamental difference between conventional farming and organic/regenerative farming. The former sees fertility as chemistry, the latter as biological (i.e. soil microorganisms). This is why conventional farming can never be sustainable and why regenag inherently takes ecology into account.

      Plus, Peak Phosphorus

    • Robert Guyton 2.2

      Plus cadmium.

    • aom 2.3

      Don't know what the long-term effects on NZ are but it sure as hell didn't do much for Nauru.

  3. Ad 3

    If only the government had a bill that could shunt Fonterra from requiring perpetual purchase of bulk milk forever and kill the disease of mass production……

  4. Gosman 4

    Wow. Who would have thought focusing on profits was actually beneficial to the environment…

    • Stuart Munro. 4.1

      It's a thing you see in a lot of businesses – someone mistaking a production heuristic for the goal. This is the kind of thing Deming and Imai were trying to get across to manufacturers back in the day.

    • weka 4.2

      Not really a surprise, sustainability people have been saying for a long time that it's possible to run a farm business economically without wrecking the land. It's not a focus on profits, it's a focus on what is sustainable (ecologically and economically).

    • lprent 4.3

      Well Gosman – How is this is a revelation for you? I guess you came directly from the ark slashing and burning without ever bothering to look at basic economics.


      Profit has never been a particular issue in green issues for anything except to idiot right-wing nut jobs looking for ideas simple enough for them to wrap their teeny weeny minds around. So they invent dumb myths about others out of the bigotry without bothering to listen to what they actually say.

      Looks like that might define you pretty well.

      People who are actually interested in doing more than doing short-term massaging of their wimpy egos have always been aware that the economic issue with conservation has always been about tragedy of the commons issue – and perverse short-term economic intensives it offers to barbarians.

      In other words almost all crony capitalists who’d have problems finding their arse with their hands if it was more than 3 years in the future.

      • phillip ure 4.3.1


        to the 'tragedy of the commons' take…

        • lprent

          Looking at the subtext… I'm an equal opportunity sarcasm generator – you are not the only one… eh!!!! !!! !! !


          • phillip ure


            i think that as the climate-crisis unfolds we will become more and more aware that capitalists extracting aren't going to stop..

            and that we need to take back control of 'the commons'..

            and the case will be able to be made that we are only taking back what was stolen from us in the first place..

            (not a drop of 'sarcasm' to be seen..)

    • mac1 4.4

      It's really a question not of profit per se because in its very nature profit is a positive, but for whom, over what time frame and how much is sustainable and fair as opposed to exploitation of land, people or resources.

      President Macron spoke of the rich elite, be they individuals or nations. The profit should not be just for them. What system woud entrust our societies very wellbeing to self-absorbed, sociopathic narcissists and followers of Mammon?

      Macron speech – The end of Western hegemony


      There is also just a bit more than a little on giving to the poor in the Old and New Testaments which might reinforce these arguments.

  5. soddenleaf 5

    Now why would a farmer do that, production up profits down, how can you look your neighbor in the eye and say your cattle count is lower, your sht is not heading for town and loadsofmoney.

  6. cleangreen 6

    Farming is only one side of the pollution of our waterways folks.

    Try this global study of ‘road runoff’ pollution studies of three countries in three regions Japan, France and the USA.

    I claim this ‘road runoff’ pollution as the ‘Elephant in the room’ so far not considered, folks


    Impacts of surface runoff to aquatic species are an ongoing area of concern. Tire and road wear particles (TRWP) are a constituent of runoff, and determining accurate TRWP concentrations in sediment is necessary in order to evaluate the likelihood that these particles present a risk to the aquatic environment.

    Article in Environmental Science & Technology 47(15) · July 2013 
    DOI: 10.1021/es400871j · Source: PubMed
    Cite this publication

    Comparison of Tire and Road Wear Particle Concentrations in Sediment for Watersheds in France, Japan, and the United States by Quantitative Pyrolysis GC/MS Analysis

    Impacts of surface runoff to aquatic species are an ongoing area of concern. Tire and road wear particles (TRWP) are a constituent of runoff, and determining accurate TRWP concentrations in sediment is necessary in order to evaluate the likelihood that these particles present a risk to the aquatic environment. TRWP consist of approximately equal mass fractions of tire tread rubber and road surface mineral encrustations. Sampling was completed in the Seine (France), Chesapeake (U.S.), and Yodo-Lake Biwa (Japan) watersheds to quantify TRWP in the surficial sediment of watersheds characterized by a wide diversity of population densities and land uses. By using a novel quantitative pyrolysis-GC/MS analysis for rubber polymer, we detected TRWP in 97% of the 149 sediment samples collected. The mean concentrations of TRWP were 4500 (n = 49; range = 62-11 600), 910 (n = 50; range = 50-4400) and 770 (n = 50; range = 26-4600) μg/g d.w. for the characterized portions of the Seine, Chesapeake and Yodo-Lake Biwa watersheds, respectively. A subset of samples from the watersheds (n = 45) was pooled to evaluate TRWP metals, grain size and organic carbon correlations by principal components analysis (PCA), which indicated that four components explain 90% of the variance. The PCA components appeared to correspond to (1) metal alloys possibly from brake wear (primarily Cu, Pb, Zn), (2) crustal minerals (primarily Al, V, Fe), (3) metals mediated by microbial immobilization (primarily Co, Mn, Fe with TOC), and (4) TRWP and other particulate deposition (primarily TRWP with grain size and TOC). This study should provide useful information for assessing potential aquatic effects related to tire service life.

  7. Jilly Bee 7

    I caught up with this article in the Waikato Times a little while ago and was wondering how and where to respond to it. I live in the Waikato area and of course, it is pretty much the center of the dairy industry in N Z, though I notice the rapid increase in crop growing particularly on the Matamata plains through to Te Aroha and surrounding areas – the townies always have a wee winge during (the onion) harvesting season with the dust clouds circling overhead! My immediate reaction to this piece was exactly as the writer had opined – get on and do it and stop grizzling – here's looking at you Fed Farmers et al.


Recent Comments

Recent Posts

  • Advancing our relationship in India
    Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta departs for India tomorrow as she continues to reconnect Aotearoa New Zealand to the world.  The visit will begin in New Delhi where the Foreign Minister will meet with the Vice President Hon Jagdeep Dhankar and her Indian Government counterparts, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 days ago
  • Government Northland housing investment to spark transformational change
    Over $10 million infrastructure funding to unlock housing in Whangārei The purchase of a 3.279 hectare site in Kerikeri to enable 56 new homes Northland becomes eligible for $100 million scheme for affordable rentals Multiple Northland communities will benefit from multiple Government housing investments, delivering thousands of new homes for ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    4 days ago
  • Battle of Ohaeawai remembered
    A memorial event at a key battle site in the New Zealand land wars is an important event to mark the progress in relations between Māori and the Crown as we head towards Waitangi Day, Minister for Te Arawhiti Kelvin Davis said. The Battle of Ohaeawai in June 1845 saw ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    5 days ago
  • More Police deployed to the frontline
    More Police officers are being deployed to the frontline with the graduation of 54 new constables from the Royal New Zealand Police College today. The graduation ceremony for Recruit Wing 362 at Te Rauparaha Arena in Porirua was the first official event for Stuart Nash since his reappointment as Police ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    5 days ago
  • Further support for upper North Island regions hit by significant weather
    The Government is unlocking an additional $700,000 in support for regions that have been badly hit by the recent flooding and storm damage in the upper North Island. “We’re supporting the response and recovery of Auckland, Waikato, Coromandel, Northland, and Bay of Plenty regions, through activating Enhanced Taskforce Green to ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    5 days ago
  • The Princess Royal to visit New Zealand
    Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has welcomed the announcement that Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal, Princess Anne, will visit New Zealand this month. “Princess Anne is travelling to Aotearoa at the request of the NZ Army’s Royal New Zealand Corps of Signals, of which she is Colonel in Chief, to ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    5 days ago
  • Government and horticulture sector target $12b in exports by 2035
    A new Government and industry strategy launched today has its sights on growing the value of New Zealand’s horticultural production to $12 billion by 2035, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said. “Our food and fibre exports are vital to New Zealand’s economic security. We’re focussed on long-term strategies that build on ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    6 days ago
  • Cost of living support extended for families and businesses
    25 cents per litre petrol excise duty cut extended to 30 June 2023 – reducing an average 60 litre tank of petrol by $17.25 Road User Charge discount will be re-introduced and continue through until 30 June Half price public transport fares extended to the end of June 2023 saving ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    6 days ago
  • More Kiwis in work as rising wages match inflation
    The strong economy has attracted more people into the workforce, with a record number of New Zealanders in paid work and wages rising to help with cost of living pressures. “The Government’s economic plan is delivering on more better-paid jobs, growing wages and creating more opportunities for more New Zealanders,” ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    6 days ago
  • Government boosts fund for Auckland flooding
    The Government is providing a further $1 million to the Mayoral Relief Fund to help communities in Auckland following flooding, Minister for Emergency Management Kieran McAnulty announced today. “Cabinet today agreed that, given the severity of the event, a further $1 million contribution be made. Cabinet wishes to be proactive ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    7 days ago
  • New Cabinet focused on bread and butter issues
    The new Cabinet will be focused on core bread and butter issues like the cost of living, education, health, housing and keeping communities and businesses safe, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has announced. “We need a greater focus on what’s in front of New Zealanders right now. The new Cabinet line ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    7 days ago
  • Prime Minister to meet with PM Albanese
    Prime Minister Chris Hipkins will travel to Canberra next week for an in person meeting with Australian Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese. “The trans-Tasman relationship is New Zealand’s closest and most important, and it was crucial to me that my first overseas trip as Prime Minister was to Australia,” Chris Hipkins ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    7 days ago
  • Government makes first payment to Auckland Flooding fund
    The Government is providing establishment funding of $100,000 to the Mayoral Relief Fund to help communities in Auckland following flooding, Minister for Emergency Management Kieran McAnulty announced. “We moved quickly to make available this funding to support Aucklanders while the full extent of the damage is being assessed,” Kieran McAnulty ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • Government steps up to assist Auckland during flooding
    As the Mayor of Auckland has announced a state of emergency, the Government, through NEMA, is able to step up support for those affected by flooding in Auckland. “I’d urge people to follow the advice of authorities and check Auckland Emergency Management for the latest information. As always, the Government ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • Poroporoaki: Titewhai Te Huia Hinewhare Harawira
    Ka papā te whatitiri, Hikohiko ana te uira, wāhi rua mai ana rā runga mai o Huruiki maunga Kua hinga te māreikura o te Nota, a Titewhai Harawira Nā reira, e te kahurangi, takoto, e moe Ka mōwai koa a Whakapara, kua uhia te Tai Tokerau e te kapua pōuri ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Enhanced Task Force Green Approved following Cyclone Hale
    Carmel Sepuloni, Minister for Social Development and Employment, has activated Enhanced Taskforce Green (ETFG) in response to flooding and damaged caused by Cyclone Hale in the Tairāwhiti region. Up to $500,000 will be made available to employ job seekers to support the clean-up. We are still investigating whether other parts ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • General Election to be held on 14 October 2023
    The 2023 General Election will be held on Saturday 14 October 2023, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced today. “Announcing the election date early in the year provides New Zealanders with certainty and has become the practice of this Government and the previous one, and I believe is best practice,” Jacinda ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 weeks ago
  • Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announces resignation
    Jacinda Ardern has announced she will step down as Prime Minister and Leader of the Labour Party. Her resignation will take effect on the appointment of a new Prime Minister. A caucus vote to elect a new Party Leader will occur in 3 days’ time on Sunday the 22nd of ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 weeks ago