The two most crucial moves we can make to improve New Zealand’s sadly degraded waterways are to stop dairy expansion, and to transition towards truly sustainable farming, according to the Soil & Health Association. Organic farmers are well ahead of the game in sustainable production and provide a model for a positive, healthy future for New Zealand. The latest issue of Soil & Health’s magazine, Organic NZ, includes an article ‘Dairy farming without nitrate leaching’ (May/June issue, just released this week).
“New Zealand’s waterways are in a dire state, with many showing a continuing deterioration in water quality, and no clear path for improvement.” said Marion Thomson, co-chair of Soil & Health. “The main driver of this is the increasing intensification of non-organic farms, and we urgently need to turn this around.”
“Organic and biological farming systems have a much lower ecological footprint, greater biodiversity and reduced nitrate leaching, making waterways healthier for all to enjoy,” she said.
Soil & Health welcomed the opportunity to submit on the consultation document “Next Steps for Fresh Water” which forms part of the Government’s freshwater reforms. The document outlines a range of bottom lines that healthy rivers must not fall below. One of these measures is human health, and the bottom line is that waterways must be safe for secondary contact, i.e. wading or boating.
“Weak bottom lines such as this will only allow water quality to decline,” said Thomson. “The bottom line must be swimmable rivers, and this needs to be a national target.”
However, given thata big factor in the pollution of waterways is nitrates from cow urine diffusing through soils, and from soluble nitrogen fertilisers, simply fencing off and planting around streams cannot solve this issue. Healthier fresh wateris achievable by ensuring stock numbers are sustainable, and by shifting to organic and biological fertilising practices that involve nitrogen-fixing pasture species, and healthy living soils with good moisture-holding capacity.
Soil & Health supports a number of other proposals in the consultation document that it believes have the potential to improve the management of freshwater in New Zealand. These include proposals for measuring water quality by catchment rather than region, and to exclude stock from waterways through regulation.