DairyNZ chief executive Dr Tim Mackle last week called on the Government to move swiftly to extend the six-week timeframe of the Essential Freshwater consultation.

"Farmers need more time to consider the Government's proposal and to carefully weigh up the impact it may have on their farms, families and communities," he said.

"Essential Freshwater will significantly impact the way we farm in New Zealand. If this process is to have any integrity the minister must extend the consultation period to allow farmers time to digest the proposal and engage in a meaningful way. Spring is a busy time for farmers, with calving, lambing and mating. They have a lot on their plate at the moment, and this is adding to it.

"At the end of the day, farmers are farmers, not policy people. I can't recall a time in our history that we have had to ask them to write this number of submissions in one season — the Zero Carbon Bill, the pricing of agricultural emissions and now Essential Freshwater."

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The huge numbers of farmers who were showing up at the small number of public meetings organised revealed the rural sector's interest and anxiety, he added. It also showed how keen farmers were to engage with the process in a constructive way.

"The level of interest should be of no surprise to the government. Farmers have been working extremely hard over the last two decades to improve water quality. Water quality is very important to all New Zealanders and our communities. Dairy farmers are part of the community, like everyone else, and we want to see improvements."

Dr Mackle welcomed Friday's announcement that the consultation period had been extended by two weeks, but called on the minister for four more.

"A two-week extension is a step in the right direction, but our concerns remain the same. Farmers still need more time to consider the Government's proposal and to carefully weigh up the impact it may have on their farms, families, and communities," he said.

"That would allow farmers, and the rest of New Zealand, enough time to properly engage in the process. It might not be good politics, but it might just lead to good policy."