Greenpeace is welcoming the release of new measures to protect waterways, but says more needs to be done.

The proposals in the Government’s Action for Healthy Waterways document include restrictions on dairy conversions, further farming intensification and the amount of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser farmers can put on fields.

These moves are all supported by Greenpeace. The environmental organisation has been campaigning to reduce cow numbers and end the use of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser.

“New Zealanders deserve clean rivers and safe drinking water but 70% of our rivers are unsafe to swim in and more than three quarters of our native fish are threatened with extinction,” says Greenpeace campaigner, Gen Toop

Dairy cow numbers in NZ have almost doubled since the 1990’s and the use of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser has increased 600%.

According to the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment this has put major pressure on the country’s waterways.

“Industrial dairying and synthetic nitrogen fertiliser are polluting our lakes, rivers and drinking water.  The Government looks to be taking its first steps down the track of putting restrictions on these big agricultural polluters. That’s great news for our rivers,” says Toop.

Greenpeace is encouraging the Government to move ahead with capping synthetic fertiliser use and to reject an option which replaces the cap with a reliance on farm plans which they say creeps into the territory of industry self-regulation.

“The Government should set a sinking cap on synthetic nitrogen fertiliser that ends with the elimination of this polluting product altogether,” says Toop.

On the controversial issue of intensive winter grazing, there is a proposal that pits agricultural “industry-set standards” against strong rules. Greenpeace will urge the Government to adopt national regulations instead.

“Our rivers have endured decades of voluntary commitments and unenforceable ‘best practice’ guidelines. If that approach had worked our rivers wouldn’t be in such a dire state,” says Toop.

“We hope to see agricultural lobby groups like Federated Farmers and DairyNZ, who’ve expressed their commitment to the environment, coming out in full support of strong regulations”

“We need strong mandatory rules now to clean up our rivers.  A fight for voluntary measures is a fight for dirty rivers.”

The Government is also helping farmers adapt to the new rules by increasing support for farm extension services, and allocating budget through the sustainable land-use package.

Greenpeace believes strong rules coupled with support for farmers to change will incentivise our country to diversify and strengthen the economy.

“There are now many studies proving that farmers can farm fewer cows, eliminate their use of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser and remain profitable.” (1)

“Instead of producing vast amounts of bulk milk powder, New Zealand can transition to regenerative farming and produce a variety of high-value, clean, green food and fibre products,” says Toop.




  1. A ten year study by DairyNZ compared a farm with no synthetic nitrogen application and a farm using 181/kg/ha per year.  The study “confirmed that profitable milk production systems can be achieved without N fertiliser applications” 
    1. Glassey, C.B., Roach, C.G., Lee, J.M. and Clark, D.A., 2013. The impact of farming without nitrogen fertiliser for ten years on pasture yield and composition, milksolids production and profitability; a research farmlet comparison. In Proceedings of the New Zealand Grasslands Association (Vol. 75, pp. 71-78).