Freshwater farm plans

Freshwater farm plans will provide a practical way for farmers to meet freshwater outcomes. We encourage those who manage or work on farms to understand how the freshwater farm plan system will benefit them.

riparian planting

Farmers who need a freshwater farm plan

All farmers with:

  • 20 hectares or more in arable or pastoral use
  • 5 hectares or more in horticultural use
  • 20 hectares or more of combined use.

What freshwater farm plans are

They are a legal instrument established under Part 9A of the RMA (sections 217A to 217M).

Freshwater farm plans will identify practical actions on-farm that help improve your local waterways. Actions will be tailored to a particular farm’s physical environment and what is important in the catchment that farm is in.

Freshwater farm plans will build from existing plans but are not the same as farm environment plans.

The final design of the freshwater farm plans and wider system has been informed by submissions, analysis and user testing. This includes extensive on-farm testing.

overview freshwater farm plans v5

Benefits to having a freshwater farm plan:

  • Provides a record of environmental actions (past, present and future).
  • Can support the development of an Integrated Farm Plan.
  • Links your farm to community of catchment group priorities.
  • Helps you inform future regional plans; may provide assurance to suppliers and customers.
  • May eliminate the need for some resource consents.
  • Can list your existing resource consents and conditions.

Elements of a freshwater farm plan:

  • Catchment context (ie, catchment values, ecosystem health, community outcomes, farm management practices).
  • Risks/impacts assessment (ie, critical source areas, fodder crop management, wetlands).
  • Actions to reduce risks (ie, strategic fencing of waterways, wetland restoration, winter grazing paddock plan).
  • Catchment context: councils to notify freshwater regional plans by 2024 to give effect to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater 2020 including Te Mana o te Wai.
  • National Environmental Standards for Freshwater 2020: (eg, practice standards for stock holding areas, interim intensification rules, natural wetland rules, intensive winter grazing and nitrogen cap).
  • RMA S360 regulations - Stock exclusion from waterways: (eg, exclude stock on low slope areas (refer to the ‘low-slope map) and exclusion of stock on land between 5 to 10 degrees, in depleted grassland and tall tussock, and areas above 500m altitude will be managed by freshwater farm plans).

All the elements shown in the graphic contribute to significant gains in the health of New Zealand's waterbodies.

overview freshwater farm plans v5

Benefits to having a freshwater farm plan:

  • Provides a record of environmental actions (past, present and future).
  • Can support the development of an Integrated Farm Plan.
  • Links your farm to community of catchment group priorities.
  • Helps you inform future regional plans; may provide assurance to suppliers and customers.
  • May eliminate the need for some resource consents.
  • Can list your existing resource consents and conditions.

Elements of a freshwater farm plan:

  • Catchment context (ie, catchment values, ecosystem health, community outcomes, farm management practices).
  • Risks/impacts assessment (ie, critical source areas, fodder crop management, wetlands).
  • Actions to reduce risks (ie, strategic fencing of waterways, wetland restoration, winter grazing paddock plan).
  • Catchment context: councils to notify freshwater regional plans by 2024 to give effect to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater 2020 including Te Mana o te Wai.
  • National Environmental Standards for Freshwater 2020: (eg, practice standards for stock holding areas, interim intensification rules, natural wetland rules, intensive winter grazing and nitrogen cap).
  • RMA S360 regulations - Stock exclusion from waterways: (eg, exclude stock on low slope areas (refer to the ‘low-slope map) and exclusion of stock on land between 5 to 10 degrees, in depleted grassland and tall tussock, and areas above 500m altitude will be managed by freshwater farm plans).

All the elements shown in the graphic contribute to significant gains in the health of New Zealand's waterbodies.

Why freshwater farm plans are needed

The health of freshwater is vital for the health of people, the environment, and economy. However freshwater quality is declining. It is being impacted by urban development, agriculture, horticulture, forestry and other activities.

Current regulation has not been able to halt the decline in many of our waterways.

Freshwater farm plans are part of the Essential Freshwater package introduced in 2020 to:

  • stop further degradation of New Zealand’s freshwater resources and improve water quality within five years
  • reverse past damage and bring New Zealand’s freshwater resources, waterways and ecosystems to a healthy state within a generation.

When farmers need to have freshwater farm plans in place

  • Freshwater farm plan regulations are expected to be ready for rollout from early 2023. 
  • The regulations will take effect region by region, with the rollout schedule for the 16 regional and unitary council areas informed by:
    • existing farm planning infrastructure
    • the investment needed in capability and capacity
    • regional council alignment with and progress on the development of new freshwater regional plans as required under the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020. 
  • The first regions for roll out in 2023 are
    • Southland
    • Gisborne
    • Waikato
  • We are currently running pilot projects in these regions to test the freshwater farm plan process at a catchment level. These are joint projects between the relevant regional council, iwi, hapū, and rūnanga, MfE, and MPI.
  • Subsequent regions for rollout are set out below; these remain indicative, noting regulations will not formally take effect in a region until they are activated by a Ministerial decision (note – the dates for rollout in these regions have yet to be confirmed):
    • Hawke’s Bay
    • Otago
    • West Coast
    • Bay of Plenty
    • Greater Wellington
    • Horizons
    • Taranaki
    • Marlborough
    • Tasman/Nelson
    • Environment Canterbury
    • Chathams
    • Northland
    • Auckland.

How freshwater farms plans fit in with the wider regulatory system

Freshwater farm plans can demonstrate how regulatory requirements are being met on farms such as those from the:

  • National Environmental Standards for Freshwater 2020 
  • nitrogen-cap regulations
  • stock exclusion regulations
  • intensive winter grazing regulations
  • regional plans and consent requirements.

Freshwater farm plans and stock exclusion regulations are complementary ways to manage stock exclusion.

How freshwater farm plans work with integrated farm plans

Freshwater farm plans may become a section within the integrated farm plan framework. Integrated farm planning will provide a single framework for a farmer or grower to bring together all their farm planning requirements into one place. It is not a regulatory tool.

The aim of the integrated approach to farm planning is to streamline compliance, reduce duplication, and provide a structured approach for farmers and growers to lift performance.

How freshwater farm plans fit with regional plans and consents

Regional councils will be developing regional freshwater plans that implement the National Policy Statement for Freshwater 2020.

Freshwater farm plans will tie into regional council plans – and will be able to be used to demonstrate regulatory compliance to regional councils. 

This does not mean that freshwater farm plans will replace the need for resource consents or rules. These other regulatory tools are still important, and we expect councils will continue to use them where necessary.

How freshwater farm plans work with farm environment plans

Farm environment plans help farmers and growers plan systems and practices that reduce their impact on the environment. Farm environment plans can be used as the basis for freshwater farm plans under the proposed regulations and may become the basis for the farm’s risk assessment.

Farmers and growers should continue to use any existing farm environment plans to manage environmental risks until the freshwater farm plan system applies to their farm.

Councils will prioritise catchments within their own regions for the introduction and implementation of freshwater farm plans, including a transition from any existing regulated farm environment plans to the new system.

Regional freshwater plans need to be notified by December 2024.

How freshwater farm plans work with industry assurance programmes

Freshwater farm plans will build on the good work many farmers and growers are already doing to manage impacts of farming activities on freshwater quality and ecosystems.

Industry programmes will play a key role in enabling effective implementation and delivery. The primary sector has played a leadership role in the development of industry assurance programmes such as Fonterra's Tiaki Programme, NZGAP, and the red meat sector’s New Zealand Farm Assurance Programme (NZFAP). Many of these have an environmental component.

The freshwater farm plan framework will allow for the continued use of existing industry programmes, provided they meet the regulations. We are actively working with industry to update programmes where necessary.

How freshwater farm plan requirements will be more flexible than previous regulations

We know that ‘one size does not fit all’ when it comes to on-farm solutions. Freshwater farm plans will be built using available local information and updated over time.

They will include a risk-based tailored approach to mitigating impacts on freshwater. This will help ensure that mitigation actions have real impact and are effective and practical.

You will be able to work with the certifier and farm advisor(s) to ensure that your vision and values are captured within your freshwater farm plan.

Public sharing of personal or farm information

We are aware of privacy concerns with supplying farm business information.

In the consultation on freshwater farm plans held from July to October 2021, the consultation asked for views on what information is needed to make freshwater farm plans transparent and robust.

Regional councils, as main implementors of the freshwater farm plan system, have committed to investigating the establishment of an Integrated National Farm Data Platform (INFDP) as a core function of data collection, monitoring and reporting.

Freshwater farm plans are likely to be available to regional councils when certified. Some data may be aggregated and reported to ensure the freshwater farm plan system is tracking progress. Private financial data will not be shared or publicly reported.

Making freshwater farm plans

Writing and certifying freshwater farm plans

While freshwater farm plans can be developed by individual farmers. We expect the creation of a FWFP will need the support of, specialist information, engagement of advisors, perhaps information from primary sector groups, Catchment Groups and Regional Council information.

The freshwater farm plan will need to be certified by a qualified certifier who then advises the regional council when the plan is fit for purpose.

Giving effect to Te Mana o te Wai on farms

Under the Freshwater National Policy Statement, regional councils will involve tangata whenua, as well as others, in the regional freshwater planning process.

Freshwater farm plans will then reflect these regional plans when they are finalised. Regional plans might include, for example, the main issues that need to be addressed, what mahinga kai values/locations need to be protected and what particularly important sites need protection or restoration.

We do not propose a system where individual farmers and growers would be required to identify and engage relevant tangata whenua about their freshwater farm plan. That would risk placing an unreasonable burden on both tangata whenua and farmers.

Role of catchment groups in freshwater farm plans

Catchment groups of all types work within their community and with regional councils to identify their catchment priorities. They will also play a key role in supporting the uptake of freshwater farm plans, sharing and setting group outcomes, advances in farming practice and evaluating farm plans as a group to progress catchment outcomes.

Freshwater farm plan advisors and certifiers

It will take time to build up the resources, capacity and capability needed to certify freshwater farm plans. While freshwater farm plans will start to be introduced in 2023, the intention is that they will be phased in throughout New Zealand over time.

Workforce planning is underway in conjunction with MPI’s wider Primary Industry Advisory Services Workforce Strategy.

Find out more

For more information on freshwater farm plans contact freshwaterfarmplans@mfe.govt.nz