One of New Zealand's biggest hands-on environmental efforts has created a 'wave of change' on dairy farms across the country, and is contributing to progress in improving water quality, according to Sustainable Dairy: Water Accord farmers and partners.

Achievements to date included fencing dairy cattle out of 24,249km (98.3 per cent) of significant Dairy Accord waterways (more than a metre wide and more than 30cm deep, almost 12 times the length of the country by road); installing bridges and culverts on 100 per cent of dairy cow crossing points; preparing 10,396 nutrient budgets, up from 6400 in the first year of the Accord, enabling farmers to plan nutrient applications and manage nutrient losses; assessing 100 per cent of Accord farms for effluent management practices; and developing riparian management plans to protect water quality on 52 per cent of Accord farms with waterways.

Meanwhile, through the Dairy Tomorrow Strategy, which the Accord would transition into, the dairy sector had made a strong commitment to continue working with communities, councils and the government to improve waterways.

Dairy Environment Leaders' Group chairman Alister Body said the Water Accord had seen dairy farmers nationwide make a range of changes to improve their environmental management.

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"Over 11,000 dairy farmers are part of the Accord. They have pulled on their gumboots and put in many thousands of hours of time, and made significant investment to help improve water quality," he said.

"The Water Accord is one of the factors contributing to the measurable improvements we have seen in many waterways recently. As ecosystems take some time to respond to changes on the ground, we can expect to see further improvements to water quality as a result of the changes made on farms over the past five years.

"While we have made improvements in a number of areas, we know that we still have more work to do, particularly in the area of effluent management," he added.

"While the Accord targets were met, a minority of farmers are letting everyone else down, and need to improve their performance. Dairy companies will continue to work with these farmers to improve their effluent management practices."

He went on to note that the latest analysis of national river quality trends from 2008-2017 by Land, Air, Water Aotearoa (LAWA) showed that for eight out of the nine water quality indicators reported on, more monitored sites were improving than degrading.

"We all use our rivers, and we all want to protect them for our future," Mr Body said.

"Although we can be proud of what has been achieved so far, we all acknowledge that there is more to be done to improve ecosystem health and water quality for all New Zealanders."

Those who were achieving results included Andy Palmer and Sharon Collett, who had been planting on their Temuka farm over the last 20 years, including about three kilometres of riparian planting.

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They had fenced off all the waterways on the property, and worked with their former sharemilkers, who now owned a neighbouring dairy farm, to plant native species on a coastal wetland bordering their properties. The wetland was home to Canterbury's only known population of the native giant kokopu.