For dairy farmer Peter Dobbie, learning about what affects his farm's environment and how to remedy or improve it has been a continually evolving journey that has taken almost three decades.

''We have not suddenly woken up and realised we need to do this or that,'' he said.

Comment: How the freshwater plan could ruin my town
Emissions trading scheme Q&A: What just happened?
Freshwater meetings: Hundreds turn out to hear Federated Farmers' concerns

He has been farming since 1991, and was a financial consultant before that.


By 2001 he had moved to dairying in partnership with his brother William.

They have 914ha near Clinton, and milk 1750 KiwiCross cows, averaging 420kgMS/cow, and have a target this season of 720,000kgMS.

About two-thirds of their stock are wintered on the property with the balance grazed off farm.

They grow 60ha of fodder beet and about 7ha of kale, and also cut 200ha to 300ha for silage and baleage.

He said the Government's proposed national environmental standards for freshwater, which were released for discussion and submissions last month, would, in theory, not impact his business, although much depended on what rules would be introduced for wintering.

It was annoying that despite following best practice, he was going to be told by the Government how he would have to operate and have ''to do things their way''.

While some farmers did need advice or additional help to follow best practice, they were in the minority, he said.

''However, now the whole environment thing is a moving target because we don't know cause and effect.


''We had done a lot of stuff over the years, with the help from DairyNZ, and we still need to do more stuff, and it is always evolving.''

He admitted that in his early days of dairying it did not occur to him that putting effluent close to a waterway would cause problems.

These days he fenced off waterways to 5m back, and didn't plough gullies, steep slopes or critical source areas, which were all best practice standards he had learned from nearly 30 years' farming.

He said he saw looking after the environment ''as a journey''.

He said he belonged to the Pomahaka Water Care Group and before that to a DairyNZ water monitoring group.

In 2015 tests indicated problems he was not aware of, but since then he had worked to rectify and improve water quality, he said.

He had added travelling and low-rate irrigators to spread effluent over 280ha, and commissioned a Farm Environment Plan through DairyNZ 18 months ago.

He planted areas of the farm in exotic or native species in winter every year.

''Our biggest problem is looking after natives,'' he said.

''By spring they need maintaining but we are too busy.''

Most farmers were concerned about the environment and animal welfare, he said.

''As far as winter cropping, we don't want to lose it and we want to do it right.

''If we lose it, it would be a huge cost to the industry.

''The annoying thing is we are told by DairyNZ we are the most efficient, sustainable farmers in the world.

''If they [the Government] makes it too hard for us, other [overseas] people will fill the gap, who are inefficient.

''We still have got to sell our story and sell our products and we have got to be careful that we don't get replaced by someone who is not efficient.''

He said farmers were getting increasingly worried about the implications of the water package, the political scene, the unknown costs and other stresses, and especially by the way the Government was handling farming.

He said it was making not only farmers but also rural businesses nervous.