Words by: Bob Edlin

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor, discussing the government’s funding of projects in targeted catchments and regions, credits most of the dairy industry with doing a lot of good work already in fencing waterways and environmental planting.

Catchment management groups were extending this work, bolstering plantings and creating new wetlands.

“I think the dairy farmers have got right in behind it and where there is good structure, we [the government] are simply giving them the resources to further boost the good work they have been doing,” he said.

O’Connor talked with Dairy Exporter in mid-July after announcing more funding for farm environmental clean-up projects and a $20 million injection into catchment groups across the country to help clean up waterways while delivering hundreds of jobs and training opportunities.

Projects in the Bay of Plenty, Rangitikei, Canterbury, and Otago are sharing $10m from the government’s Jobs for Nature package to help with land restoration, wetland protection, remediation of waterways, planting, pest control, and the increased uptake of farm environment plans.

Catchment group projects in Auckland, King Country, Wairarapa, Tasman, Canterbury, and Otago to enhance water quality, soil conservation and ecological restoration will get $10m (between $1m and $2m each) from the One Billion Trees fund.

A further $1.87m was allocated to the Quorum Sense Charitable Trust to help farmers share knowledge about developing and implementing regenerative agriculture systems.

The Government’s 2019 budget established the $229m Sustainable Land Use Package, which invests in projects to protect and restore at-risk waterways and wetlands and provides support for farmers and growers to use their land more sustainably.

A $1.1 billion investment to build environmental jobs in this year’s post-Covid Budget included the $200m Jobs for Nature Fund, to extend predator control, restore wetlands, regenerate planting and improve tracks, huts and other recreational and visitor assets on public conservation land.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has been encouraging catchment management groups for the past two years to come up with ideas and to apply for funding through such programmes.

“I have been absolutely committed to this pathway to improving environmental management with the farmers who understand what we need to do and a little bit of assistance from Government goes a long way to making those changes,” O’Connor said.

Anybody can form a catchment group.

Funding is decided by teams from the MPI, Ministry for the Environment and Department of Conservation – “there’s a number of astute people who can work out if the structure to control the funding is sound , if there are good skills to provide the coordination, and where there’s genuine enthusiasm to get the job done.”


O’Connor’s advice: contact MPI, Federated Farmers, DairyNZ, your local regional council or a neighbour who is already involved.

“There is extensive knowledge of the different groups around the country and we want it to be shared.”

The Thriving Southland Change and Innovation Project became the first region-wide extension programme to be supported by the Sustainable Land Use package. In December last year a grant of $6-9m was announced to help its 1000 or so farmers and growers make changes to lift their environmental sustainability.


  • Realisation that together we can have a greater impact beyond our farm gate
  • Farmers become more in control of their own future outcomes
  • Process of building Catchment plan, FEP & Action plans increases understanding & knowledge in supportive, safe learning environment
  • Farmers learning from farmers
  • Fun, social, time off-farm
  • Funding & support is a great motivator for involvement E.g. 1BT “kick start” for FEP Action plan implementation
  • Influence regional plans and regulation/rules (KCRC).


King Country River Care (KCRC), a community catchment group based in the Waitomo district and embracing around 150 farms, in May was granted $844,000 to clean up waterways on its patch. The project, aimed at creating jobs and benefiting agriculture export and tourism, links the group with MPI, the Waikato regional council, industry bodies, and farm consultancies.

O’Connor described it as “a great example of the types of great work happening all across the country to improve our waterways”.

KCRC – which includes about 20 dairy businesses in a catchment of some 1444 square kilometres – was established five years ago in response to the Waikato Regional Council’s preparing its Plan Change One. It became an incorporated society two years ago and has eight sub-catchment groups, smaller localised groups generally based around a river or tributary.

Group co-ordinator Anna Nelson, a farmer at Aria, was at Mystery Creek Fieldays last year, when O’Connor, joined by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, addressed farmers about the focus of the Sustainable Land Use Package. The Minister for Primary Industries highlighted the sum of more than $35m earmarked for providing practical advice, information and tools for farmers and growers to improve their operations.

Nelson later met MPI staffers who were promoting their extension services and the funds available to support community catchment projects, help set up workshops to provide advice on farm environment planning, involve communities in waterways monitoring and testing, and so on.

“They were looking for partners and proposals and we put a proposal to them,” Nelson said.

“We didn’t get everything on our wish list, but we got a lot of it.”

While that money could be used only for group purposes, the KCRS hoped to get funds that could flow through to individuals for use on-farm.

In mid-July it was successful. It was among the catchment group projects to benefit from the $10 million invested from the One Billion Trees Fund.

Distributions from the $1,991,000 it secured will be tied tightly to the implementation of farm environment plans that reflect the catchment’s needs and challenges.

“It’s a carrot – it’s about getting more people to come along and get involved and more people to prepare a farm environment plan and just get started.”

The KCRC envisions much of the money will be used to plant native trees on riparian and erodible land “because farmers have done the vast majority of the fencing that’s required”.

A series of workshops this month will guide farmers on how the funding can be used.

Nelson is a fervent champion of community groups finding local solutions to local challenges.

Partnership with central government was important, too, she said. It gives policy-makers a better understanding of local issues while apprising them of a farmer’s perspective of regulatory changes and their onfarm impacts.