Everyone wants clean rivers but the hard thing is understanding that the ways to get there can sometimes have material knock-on effects on people, towns, businesses and farming.

It's been 42 meetings over six long years, but the benefit of TANK's approach, was that it brought townsfolk, orchardists, wine growers, pastoral farmers, manufacturers, iwi, council and environmental advocacy groups all to the same table.

This meant that together we could decide on an agreed outcome. It has given opportunities for diverse groups to understand each other's viewpoints, requirements and concerns. So that when an outcome or objective was suggested, it could be robustly analysed from various perspectives, making it as fair as possible to all.

'We take our agricultural production for granted and we take rainfall for granted. The public does not understand that.'

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Diversity around the table helps build relationships. Initially, some were nervous of us farmers, but once we talked them through the science and brought them onto the farm, they were more confident we could achieve what we said we could.

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And the feedback I received was that 'if this is what you guys can do, we applaud this.' At the end of the day, whether you were from Fish & Game, a townie or from a boutique organic orchard — we were all local folk dealing with local issues and making recommendations with a better understanding of each other's risks and opportunities.

The time put in also means that the regional council will have a valuable resource for future years of decision making based on real evidence. It will result in more efficient outcomes, for example, TANK has recommended one Farm Environment Plan for each river catchment.

This recognises the unique features of each environment but means that everyone will be working off the same plan with the same objectives — meaning consistency of data and a simpler way of keeping up with requirements.

The conversation around river flows was interesting.

There is a significant cost to the economy if the catchment's river low-flow 'limits' are raised too high. The problem with this catchment, and many in New Zealand is that they are fully allocated.

There has to be a compromise. Which brings us back round to storage. If we are restricted from taking any more water in summer then we will need to take water in flood season and store it. That is the only way to keep up production and not bankrupt half of Hawke's Bay. But the problem is cost.

Most farmers can't afford it. So their hands are tied — they must produce — to keep their families, to sustain the economy, to keep food prices low — but they can't have the water they did previously and they have to foot the bill for further storage. Not sure that's fair. The option is they pass cost onto the consumer.

We take our agricultural production for granted and we take rainfall for granted. The public does not understand that. And if the farming sector suffers for two or three years of drought with restricted access to water, that will have a serious impact.

In Hawke's Bay, the community is broadly supportive of access to reliable water because the economy, and jobs, are reliant on farming. People are concerned that if the outcomes of TANK are not practical, that will be problematic to many communities.

One thing is clear, that change to farming rules and regulations is afoot. And having been through a collaborative process and being part of setting the objectives, I advise farmers: Get on board with changes now. Don't wait.

Farmers must start introducing water efficiency measures and mitigating nitrogen leaching now. Not wait for final outcomes to determine what they must do.

Many farmers have Farm Environment Plans and are already doing what's expected, that's the way to go, take control and 'own it' or rules will be forced on you. If you have the means, then start riparian planting, figure out how to reduce leaching, get the plans in place and start spreading the cost.

Ivan Knauf is a Hawke's Bay farmer and has been the dairy sector representative on the TANK collaborative Stakeholder Group.
Article credit: Hawke's Bay Today