Farmer group leads way on improving water quality

Mokauiti Sub-catchment farmers enjoying the sunshine in winter and discussing options for hill country erosion control.

A farmer-led group is attracting the right kind of attention for its work fostering sustainable farming practices.

Formed in September 2018, King Country River Care is helping its members get ahead of anticipated regulatory change by pooling their resources to monitor water quality, source funding for waterway improvement projects, and work alongside farmers to promote sustainable farming practices.

The group is unique, according to Aria sheep and beef farmer Anna Nelson, who is employed by the group as its co-ordinator.

It is a farmer-led initiative and was initially solely self-funded through member subscriptions, though it has recently received $30,000 from the Waikato Regional Council to support its work to improve the region’s waterways.

The group has two primary focus areas, says Anna. “We are working to improve water quality in the region through promotion of sustainable farming practices, and to give the region’s farmers a voice and representation in the development of policy.

“We are a farmer-driven and farmer-initiated group, and have had no seed funding from any third party. This is about farmers being proactive about doing a better job environmentally.”

Building community understanding about sustainable farming is an important part of the group’s mandate too.

“We are working to show that sustainable environments and communities can be achieved together,” says Anna.

King Country River Care has also partnered with Beef+Lamb NZ and Waikato Regional Council to deliver risk and mitigation and farm environment planning workshops throughout the region, and has also been working with local councils on water quality measurement and initiatives.

The group also supports farmers to make funding applications for a variety of waterway improvement projects, including riparian planting and hill country erosion control.

While the group has about 50 paid up members, its target is to have every one of the 300 or so farms in its catchment – which extends from Mokau River in the south to Waikawau/Mangaokewa/Benneydale in the north – involved in its work.

“So far, we are tracking well. Around 200 farmers have turned up and started getting involved in one way or another,” says Anna. 

Members meet monthly in Piopio to discuss progress on projects they’re working on in their area. Regular email and phone contact keeps the momentum going on projects.

While the current focus is on water quality improvement, Anna says soil health, biodiversity and carbon farming are all important areas for the future. She also envisages more engagement with local iwi and the Department of Conservation.


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