Forest & Bird has called out two councils for ignoring their own reports on the profitability of environmentally-conscious farms.
The organisation's leaders insist farms run within environmental limits can be as profitable as those relying on irrigation.
A report to Horizons Regional Council shows the region could reduce nitrogen leaching to meet its One Plan targets while retaining farm profitability.
Forest & Bird conservation spokesperson Tom Kay said a farmer in the Horizons region invested $3.5 million in his farm for a net increase in production of almost 50,000kg of milk solids.
But the increase in production couldn't cover the running costs of the extra cows as well as the capital increase of $70 per kg of extra milk solid.
Mr Kay says councils and industry leaders appear to be ignoring important findings, despite farmers struggling to meet rules designed to protect waterways.
Another report commissioned by Hawke's Bay Regional Council shows farms that rely on irrigation are exposed to greater risks and have a reduced return on investment.
"[The] report plainly shows Hawke's Bay farmers who work within environmental limits are making a better investment than those who don't," Mr Kay said.
"They now need to recognise that more production is not the key to success and reconsider the prevailing, polluting model of agricultural intensification."
Mr Kay said the two councils needed to work with industry leaders, banks, and farm advisors to deliver the message that producing less was both environmentally and economically profitable.
"This research shows we can build economic, risk-averse farming systems and sustain the health of our rivers and wildlife. We now need councils and industry leaders to listen to their own experts."