Whanganui farmers want to take charge of their own environmental impact rather than leaving it to Horizons Regional Council to regulate.
Wanganui Federated Farmers members met on August 23 and agreed to form a Whangaehu/Mangawhero catchment group, provincial president Mike Cranstone said.
They talked about how Horizons intends to move ahead with consent for intensive farming in three stages - first a limited plan change, then another one and finally catchment by catchment agreements.
"We feel that, regretfully, Horizons is likely to get bogged down in court in the first two stages. It's likely to take years and cost millions more and the outcome is probably more blanket regulations that will not recognise the unique challenges of our individual farms and rivers," Cranstone said.
Instead farmers want to jump straight to the catchment agreement stage.
"We are not prepared to wait for regulation, and the outcome will be driven by farmers and achieve a better result for rivers without destroying farms or rural communities."
The Whangaehu/Mangawhero catchment is 150,000ha, with 140 farmers. Most of them have Whole Farm Plans, done under Horizons' Sustainable Land Use Initiative (SLUI).
Cranstone said "filling the holes" in those plans would be a good place to start.
The group could also ensure every farm in the catchment has an environmental plan. Farmers can support each other and "give each other the nudge".
The Whangaehu River is unusual. It starts at Mount Ruapehu's crater lake, and carries contaminants from it.
Like the Mangawhero, it runs through eroding hill country with sheep and beef farms.
The river's main challenge is sediment, Cranstone said, not the nitrates that are a problem in dairy country.
The farmers will aim to build on the water quality work Ngāti Rangi is doing further up on both rivers.
There will be new science and funding opportunities that can achieve results without being too costly, Cranstone said.
For example, starting the break feeding of a winter crop at the top of a slope can stop 90 per cent of sediment getting into the waterway at the bottom.
"There's no extra cost or reduction in crop utilisation, just some extra planning."
More poplar planting will keep soil on the hills, without reducing grazing. The trees could also earn carbon credits (NZUs), and meat raised sustainably could fetch higher prices.
Cranstone wasn't keen to see hills blanketed with pine trees.
"There's a concern that plantation forestry has destroyed a lot of our rural communities. It was planted 30 years ago and now it's destroying rural roads as it gets harvested."
He and fellow officeholders Grant Adkins and Chris Davison plan to hold meetings for all farmers every two months. They will be advertised on Facebook and moved around the region.