Improvement to water quality and management of the environment in the Aparima catchment will take a big step forward on Tuesday with the launch of the Aparima Community Environment (Ace) Project.

''Our aim is to promote good land use across the catchment as well as improving water quality and other environmental outcomes for the community,'' Pourakino farmer and member of the Ace project leaders' group Leon Black said.

The project involves six Aparima catchment groups, Pourakino, Lower Aparima, Orepuki, Mid Aparima, Upper Aparima and Waimatuku.

''Our hope is that the project will help in restoring the environmental health of the catchment,'' he said.

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''As well, we face impending legislative changes and the community imperative to improve the environment.''

Waikato dairy farmer Stu Muir, who has been active in restoring natural waterways on his farm and has more than 20 years' experience in agribusiness, iwi engagement, dairy farming and environmental management, will speak at the three launch events at Mossburn, Otautau and Riverton.

Mr Black said the Aparima catchment covers some 207,000ha, with 81% of that being developed. There are also large areas of public conservation land as well as beech forest.

''The launch of the catchment has involved a large number of community groups in the area as well as farmers,'' he said. ''These include town community boards and other interest groups as well as local iwi.''

He said there has also to be strong backing from Beef + Lamb, DairyNZ and Environment Southland and other agencies.

''We're looking to provide new knowledge for landowners and help them change their faming practices for the better,'' Mr Black said. ''It is important that individual farmers understand the details of their situation and what options they have.''

He said the project intends to extend beyond farmers and landowners to urban areas within the catchment.

While many farms in the area are inter-generational with sound management practices, there is often no formal plan.

''We want to provide them with a good set of tools to allow a more structured approach and carry out a good stocktake of their situation,'' he said.

They can then come up with a good farm plan which identifies where there might be issues.

He said because of the terrain and the high rainfall, winter management is a particular issue for the catchment.

''Ace is a big commitment for the community, given there are some 640 landowners to get involved,'' Mr Black said.

Surprisingly, the amount of dairying in the catchment is only around 23% with 35% being sheep and beef farms and 11% in pine or exotic forests.

The balance is made up of 8% indigenous forests, 17% Doc land as well as QE2 Trusts land, wetlands and roading, with minimal cropping.

In the next two years the goal is to have form management and improvement plans for all the landowners, with a longer-term goal of presenting future generations with an improved environment.

''The main objective from the launch is to let farmers know who their catchment leaders are and how they can become involved in establishing good environmental plans for their farming systems, Mr Black said.

Southern Rural Life