Fonterra’s waterways plan requires a bucket.

While some will argue that I do this in most columns, my first inclination this week was to vomit all over the page and submit it to my editor, along with a suggested headline of 'Fonterra spin causes extreme nausea'.

But, no. Ever the professional, I hurled in the privacy of my own home before sitting down to do my job. I have a bucket close by as I write, because the waves of biliousness will no doubt keep washing over me as I relive the farce that is the state of Fonterra's communications.

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No, it's not just the words 'white bait' and 'fresh water' separated by a gap that shouldn't be there, or the missing words, or the typos, or the bad grammar that makes me dry retch. And before you call me a misguided pedant, yes, these blunders do matter. They speak to a general disregard for getting the language right. And what else?


Last week they launched "a plan to improve waterways" which includes six water commitments.

Farm within regional environmental limits; Encourage strong environmental farming practices; Reduce water use and improve wastewater quality at manufacturing plants; Build partnerships to improve waterway health; Invest in science and innovation to find new solutions; Make the products people value most.

Let's look a little deeper than this vague, surface-skimming doublespeak. I mean, this stuff isn't new by any means. It's just a repackaging. Fonterra's been using these same old, tired lines for years now.

No. 1. What does farming within environmental limits mean? Well, whatever you want it to. Each region has different interpretations of the national policy statement on freshwater. Each regional council then implements those limits - or not, as the case may be - to achieve the standards.

When Fonterra stops using lawyers to argue for the loosening of nitrogen leaching rules in the environment court - such as they did with Horizons over their 'One Plan' and the Hawke's Bay Regional Council's Ruataniwha Dam project - will be the day I can start trusting this "commitment". Wouldn't it be great to see Fonterra using their busy and expensive legal teams to demand higher standards from the environmental regulators?

No 2. Encourage strong environmental farming practices. Oh, okay. I'm so underwhelmed by this I simply can't say much more. Their amazingly radical idea of introducing a "new national award" to recognise the "country's most responsible dairy farmers" is, frankly, laughable.

No. 3. Reduce water use and improve wastewater quality at manufacturing plants. Righto. Sounds like something they should have done years ago but, I'll play their silly game.

How about this for an idea? Concentrate on reducing water use on-farm because nearly 80 per cent of all freshwater (excluding hydro) is used by irrigation for primarily dairy, and primarily Fonterra suppliers.


No. 4. Build partnerships to improve waterway health.

Sounds awesome. I am compelled here to mention their voluntary Clean Streams Accord and how they continue to mislead the public about having planted 90 per cent of waterways.

They never mention that these waterways are the larger ones and do not include the smaller waterbodies - so, in reality, about 90 per cent of 50 per cent. Research shows that 70 per cent of contaminants enter the catchments via the smaller streams.

No 5. Invest in science and innovation to find new solutions.

Do they mean they will keep commercialising the science that suits them, so as to protect their industrial farming model? Like using 'Overseer' - a tool for measuring nutrient levels, and run-off and leaching on farms. Can it be trusted? One of the owners is the Fertiliser Association of New Zealand. You tell me.

No. 6. Make the products people value most.


Does that mean the products that the consumer buys the most? Like bulk milk powder to China? I think it does. Getting the picture?

I see they're going to 'Open the Gates' on December 10, so that the public can see how marvellous they truly are. If you think these are random farmers keen to show off their pristine properties, think again. They're a carefully hand-picked selection of the best-looking dairy farms in the nation. Nitrate leaching is invisible to the naked eye, and the planting of gorgeous native trees doesn't change that. Or stop it.

If, like me, you're feeling green around the gills whenever you see a Fonterra self-congratulatory ad, then you're a perceptive person. Because Only a half-wit could fall for the spin that's going so fast, it's in danger of coming off the rails.

Now, where's my bucket ...