Listen to Dr Tim Mackle speak to The Country Early Edition's Dom George about DairyNZ's Water Accord in the audio clip above.

Opinion: Taking place, without fanfare, is one of the biggest - if not the biggest - mobilisations on behalf of the environment that this country has ever witnessed.

In the knowledge that their actions speak louder than words, 11,400 stewards of the land are quietly going about the business of protecting rural waterways.

Their achievements will be announced in full in Wellington later today when the latest Sustainable Dairying: Water Accord results are released.

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These environmental champions are dairy farmers who have endorsed this Accord. Frequently, right beside them in their paddocks helping to carry out the good work are family and friends.

One of their most important achievements is the exclusion of dairy cows from the on-farm lakes, streams, and rivers that feed into rural waterways. Farmers have bridged animal crossings and installed many thousands of kilometres of fencing, the equivalent of 12 journeys from Cape Reinga to Bluff.

They are on a journey to ensure they hand over their lands to the next generation in a better state than they received them.

Another way to look at it is, our Accord dairy farmers have made a rock-solid commitment to every New Zealander that they are taking action - and will continue to do so - to play their part in achieving swimmable rural waterways.

The really special thing is that they have made this commitment voluntarily.

While their achievements to date are worthy of celebration, our farmers are well aware they have more work to do.

They know too that other agricultural sectors, industry and urban communities also influence water quality.

For some time now, water quality scientists have said we are all in this together. However, our farmers are gratified that recent reports from the likes of the Ministry for the Environment and Sir Peter Gluckman now publicly confirm water quality is everyone's responsibility.

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To deliver swimmable waterways, we all have to work together to ensure the drivers of water quality decline are well-understood, and that the right remedial actions are taken.

Dairy farmers live on or near the land they farm. They understand the importance of protecting natural resources and, as we now know, 150 years of agricultural and urban development has taken a toll.

With modern farming's technology, innovation, and science - as well as fencing to keep cows from the water - dairy farmers are leading the way in environmental improvement and protection.


Watch the video feed from DairyNZ featuring live scenes from a north Waikato farm in the link above.

Along with fences and bridges, farms now have cutting-edge effluent management systems which collect dairy cow manure and urine from the dairy shed, and handle it in such a way that it can be utilised as a fertiliser to promote grass growth.

Throughout the country there are farmers who have retired sensitive and unsuitable areas of their land from dairy production, revegetating wetland areas, and some have also bequeathed land to the QE II National Trust, a covenant that celebrates its 40th anniversary this year and is close to many farmers' hearts.

Dairy farmers continue to plant along the margins of waterways on their land, and some are also leading the way with similar riparian planting projects on public land in their communities.

Native species such as manuka, flaxes and sedges are favoured as these help filter and utilise nutrients, and protect waterway biodiversity. When these plants flower there's great bird and bee fodder too; a number of dairy farmers keep hives for honey production.

All farmers - dairy, beef, sheep and arable - know the best way to preserve rural land and to fund environmental initiatives is to keep farms profitable.

Dairy continues to be fundamental to the New Zealand economy. Our farmers bring in export dollars, and the major part of their milk cheque is spent running their businesses and benefiting a range of companies and organisations through the purchase of goods and services.

Each one of our 11,400 Accord dairy farmers can be rightly proud of the pivotal role they are playing in protecting our country - and our economy - for the generations to come.