The dairy industry is hailing a new-look, tougher version of the Clean Streams Accord aimed at improving the environmental performance and image of their farmers but environmental groups are less sure it will make a big difference.
The Sustainable Dairying: Water Accord is now out for feedback from farmers and other groups. The aim is for it to be finalised in time for the 2013-14 dairy season.
DairyNZ chairman John Luxton said it was a "broader and more comprehensive" commitment than the previous Clean Streams Accord, a 10-year voluntary agreement between Fonterra and central and local government which expired in December.
In key changes, the accord will involve all of New Zealand's 12,000 dairy farmers, not just Fonterra's 10,500 farmer shareholders.
Some companies have already signalled that many of the accord commitments will be conditions of supply specified in their contracts with farmers.
The accord's new targets to get cattle out of waterways include:
90 per cent of dairy cattle excluded from waterways by May 31, 2014, and 100 per cent by May 31, 2017.
100 per cent of dairy cattle excluded from wetlands by May 31, 2014.
Other matters such as planting of waterways, environmental standards for converting farms to dairy and improving water and nutrient use efficiency are included for the first time.
Mr Luxton said new independent audits would be introduced to ensure farmers met the targets and "to ensure transparency and robustness".
Systems were being put in place to ensure farmers had the support and advice to meet the new commitments, he said. "We're stepping up as an industry with this new accord to take responsibility for driving change and measuring progress towards our environmental goals."
The main signatories to the new accord are DairyNZ, the Dairy Companies Association of NZ (DCANZ) and all dairy companies - Fonterra, Miraka, Open Country, Tatua, Synlait and Westland.
Other parties and industry bodies are expected to sign up as friends and supporting partners, to help farmers meet the commitments. These may include regional councils, iwi, government agencies and the fertiliser and irrigation sector. Federated Farmers has already committed to being a supporting partner.
DCANZ chairman and Fonterra director Malcolm Bailey said dairy companies would discuss the new commitments with farmers over the coming months, with Fonterra planning 50 meetings around the country with its suppliers from March 4-15. Federated Farmers dairy chairman Willy Leferink is confident the new accord will do a better job in lifting environmental performance.
He blamed the failure of the old accord to reach four of five targets on rapid growth in the industry and lack of a rigorous reporting regime.
"It was a bit disappointing and I think the measuring started a bit late and some of it was poor and subjective."
He conceded farmers still had a lot to work on and that a 10 per cent rate of major non-compliance with effluent discharge rules was "very worrying".
Farmers needed to get on top of erosion that saw sediments and nutrients lost to water, he said. They also needed to be aware that in 2017 the accord was being extended to dairy support properties.
"Yes, we should look hard at ourselves where we have gone wrong."
However, the new agreement which covered the whole industry would better identify the stragglers and put more pressure on them to improve, Mr Leferink said.
"We will put the torch on them, whereas in the past they were hidden.
"It will be tougher. Fonterra, which is 90 per cent of the industry, is saying if you don't make these ticks we might not pick up your milk." This threat had already worked on some farmers with animal welfare issues last year, he said.
"It makes them change their minds very quickly."
Farmers wouldn't be able hide their non-performance by swapping companies, he said.
The new agreement was also broader in scope, covering such things as riparian planting, and there was a lot more reporting required.
"I have confidence because farmers have come a long way and there is a different mindset."
He said it was not all down to dairy, and councils had to step up and improve wastewater plants struggling to meet the demands of 1.6 million households and almost 500,000 businesses.
Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy welcomed the new accord, saying it was a real step forward and showed the dairy industry was serious about improving its practices.
Fonterra co-operative affairs managing director Todd Muller said the company was right behind the move.
The old accord had seen improvements and farmers had invested millions, but there was still clearly more work to do, "particularly on effluent management which is behind where we need it to be", he said
Fonterra had increased its sustainable dairying advisory team from four to 17 and was providing targeted, practical information, he said.
But Fish and Game chief executive Bryce Johnson said environmental groups wanted to see the detail of the accord draft before being convinced it was a major step forward.
While it was good it included all dairy companies, Fish & Game had a number of concerns, he said.
The new accord had to be "a mandatory condition of every dairy company supply contract, not just voluntary and toothless like the last one".
There had to be serious sanctions for those who didn't comply, stock had to be excluded from even smaller waterways which were often important spawning grounds, there had to be real and regular independent auditing and the accord should fit with the Land and Water Forum's recent recommendations, Mr Johnson said
It was also important the public were consulted as "water is a public natural resource and the agricultural sector needs to remember this".
He said the accord partners had to "come clean and consult openly and honestly with the general public" on how the industry planned to take responsibility for its pollution of public waterways.
Tasman Mayor Richard Kempthorne said the council was pleased to be a "friend" of the accord and was confident that "similar or better results can be achieved".
"The latest report shows the Tasman dairy farmers have either reached or come very close to the targets within the old accord and it is only the actions of one or two that ruin what is otherwise a good reputation.
"The council has certainly taken a proactive approach with farmers in the district, which has, on the whole, led to positive outcomes. However, we will continue to take a hard line on those who do not take their responsibilities seriously."