Farmers in the Rangitīkei Rivers Catchment Collective are all agog to see how their waterways measure up after each month's testing.
The collective is a "bottoms-up, farmer-led" effort to improve water quality. It's made up of 12 sub-catchments, and water quality is tested at four to six spots in each of them on the first Tuesday of every month.
"That's what excites farmers," collective chairman Roger Dalrymple said.
"They're passionate about knowing what's happening outside their farm and also about how they can get their tributary looking like someone else's tributaries that might be looking a little bit better."
The water samples are tested at Palmerston North's Central Environmental Laboratories for nitrogen, phosphorous, turbidity and E. coli. Each test costs $85 - which is $300 to $400 per month for each sub-catchment.
Results can vary wildly, and Dalrymple said it was much too soon to talk about them.
"We've got to do it for three years before we start talking about any of our results."
Landcare Trust lower North Island co-ordinator Alistair Cole analyses the results and compares them with standards set by Horizons Regional Council and Government.
The information is held digitally by the collective's co-ordinator Louise (Lou) Totman, who works four to six hours a week from her home at Omatane.
Many of the sub-catchment groups are based around a rural hall. Membership is voluntary and the thinly populated Northern Rangitīkei sub-catchment has just six members. The collective is looking for leaders to take on sub-catchments in the more densely populated lower Rangitīkei.
Meetings are few during the busiest months for farmers - October to March - and Covid-19 has slowed progress.
The Moawhango sub-catchment group is one of the most established. In its first year it held four field days. One looked at winter grazing, and at another Massey University freshwater ecologist Russell Death talked about stream ecology.
Each catchment sets itself an annual goal that it can achieve. It might decide no cattle are to stand in water, for example.
"Once they set that standard they're not allowed to go backwards. It's raising the bar every year," Dalrymple said.
Annual membership costs farming businesses 75 cents per hectare of their land, to a maximum of $1000 and a minimum of $50.
Two months ago Totman sent out 200 land use questionnaires to members. Their answers on stocking rates, fertiliser use and stream fencing will create a baseline for the collective to measure progress against.
Totman also helps the groups by finding information and setting up opportunities. One has been an invitation from the Ministry for Primary Industries to apply for project funding that will create jobs.
The collective is to get $1.5 million to use in controlling old man's beard (Clematis vitalba), alongside the Rangitīkei Environment Group.
The sub-catchment groups could go on to co-operate in other ways, Dalrymple said, and getting together prevents loneliness and improves mental health.
Beef + Lamb NZ has been helpful, and Horizons and iwi groups across the region have very similar goals.
"We are in regular communication with both, to align ourselves and see how we can work together."
Taihape's Mark Chrystall is the collective's deputy chairman, Ruth Rainey its secretary and Simon Plimmer its treasurer.