Farmer groups set out to improve water quality

A new project set up in North Otago is aimed at helping farmers learn about how their activities can impact onwater quality.

Seven small ''pods'' of farmers are being set up. Their members are setting achievable goals to achieve better water quality and then taking action to reach them.

The initiative is part of the ''local solutions built by local people'' approach being taken by North Otago Sustainable Land Management Group (Noslam).

The project was a good way for the community to work together to find solutions for water quality in the Kakanui catchment, spokeswoman Jane Smith said.

The Otago Regional Council supported the approach being taken to help farmers meet their obligations under the water plan, which gave them room to be innovative in their farming practices, as long as they did not harm water quality, she said.

Funding from the ORC, Waitaki District Council and North Otago Irrigation Company for a part-time co-ordinator got the project off the ground.

The pods included farmers from similar geographic areas in North Otago covering dairy, cropping, sheep and beef, and wintering stock, to acknowledge water quality was an issue for all farmers, whatever their land use.

As part of the project, water quality at 15 key points in the catchment will be tested fortnightly by the ORC and NOIC.

While the pods will function independently, a representative from each pod will meet the wider group and stakeholders such as iwi, Fish and Game, Forest & Bird, the Kakanui Ratepayers and Improvement Society and the Gemmells Crossing community.

The first pod meetings had already taken place. More than 30 farmers attended a meeting at Waiareka, where Noslam, ORC and NOIC made presentations.

Addressing North Otago Federated Farmers' annual meeting in Oamaru last week, president Simon Williamson said it was apparent the Otago and Canterbury regional councils were still taking a very different approach to water quality.

He attended a meeting in Dunedin with the ORC, along with other Federated Farmers representatives, and it was ''refreshing'' the council seemed to be listening to some of the practical steps being discussed.

Federated Farmers senior policy adviser David Cooper said the Otago Water Plan was in place, so ''let's make it work''.

Catchment groups such as Noslam were critical. There were still some huge gaps for farmers trying to meet plan requirements.

Federated Farmers had been ''hammering'' the ORC asking for more information for farmers.

But that had changed over the last couple of years and it was doing a better job of engaging with the rural lobby organisation and also directly with farmers.

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