Partnering to put nature back at the heart of dairying and productive landscapes
TRISH KIRKLAND-SMITH, HEAD OF ENVIRONMENTAL PARTNERSHIPS, FONTERRA CO-OPERATIVE GROUP
Fonterra is a New Zealand dairy co-operative owned by 10,000 farming families with its high-quality dairy nutrition going to 140 countries around the world. Our cows are 96% grass-fed and spend over 350 days a year on grass, which is more than anywhere else in the world.
NATURE IS THE BASIS OF LIFE. WE ARE PART OF NATURE, AND OUR COMMUNITIES AND FARMS WILL THRIVE WHEN NATURE THRIVES.
WE’RE ALL STRIVING FOR A BETTER FUTURE THAN THE ONE WE HAVE TODAY – AND THAT’S PARTICULARLY THE CASE WHEN IT COMES TO THE ENVIRONMENT. THROUGH MANAAKITANGA (CARE FOR OTHERS) AND KAITIAKITANGA (CARE FOR NATURE), OUR CO-OPERATIVE IS HERE TO CREATE GOOD, FOR PEOPLE AND PLACE, LEAVING THINGS BETTER THAN WE FOUND THEM.
WE ARE BRINGING A REGENERATIVE MINDSET TO OUR ROLE AS STEWARDS OF THE ENVIRONMENT. AS WELL AS REDUCING OUR OWN IMPACTS, WE ARE PARTNERING WITH OTHERS TO PUT NATURE BACK AT THE HEART OF DAIRY FARMING AND PRODUCTIVE LANDSCAPES - TĀTOU TĀTOU (ALL OF US TOGETHER)
The world is facing multiple crises – climate change, biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse, inequality and over-consumption. With 1 million species threatened with extinction, a 45% reduction in CO2 levels required by 2030, and, in New Zealand, over 90% of wetlands drained, we know that urgent action is needed to secure the future we all want.
Consumers know this too. In order to help make a difference, they want to know where their food comes from, how it is produced and the environmental impact it leaves. Our farmer owners are rising to this challenge and have been reducing their impact on the environment over the past two decades. They know their livelihood depends on producing good quality food, and to do that, they need a stable climate and healthy ecosystems. It’s for all these reasons, our Co-op aspires to be Net Zero Carbon by 2050 and, alongside our farmers, is investing heavily in sustainability and regenerative initiatives.
Collaborating to find solutions
Tackling complex issues like climate change and regenerating ecosystem health will take a collective effort by all parts of society - governments, business, scientists, indigenous peoples, communities and consumers. But by working together and focusing on ambitious common goals, the power of collaboration can be used to find the solutions.
At Fonterra, the principles of collaboration underpin our Co-operative and our growing environmental efforts. This is demonstrated every day when our Sustainable Dairying Advisors work alongside our farmers implementing farm environment plans, and when our scientists work on new low-carbon solutions with our manufacturing teams.
Collaboration is also at the heart of our Environmental Partnerships Programme. Fonterra is a founding member of national initiatives like the Climate Leaders Coalition (keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees) and the Aotearoa Circle (committed to reversing the decline of New Zealand’s natural resources). Through our Sustainable Catchments initiative the Co-op has been collaborating with local communities in catchments up and down the country to help rebuild the health of New Zealand’s waterways and to restore ecosystems across productive landscapes.
Dairy and freshwater thriving together
Our first, and most significant environmental partnership is with New Zealand’s Department of Conservation. Living Water is a 10-year partnership focused on identifying game-changing and scalable solutions that show dairying and freshwater can thrive together.
Established in 2013, the Living Water partnership brought together two very different organisations to see if they could work together to address the impacts dairy farming was having on freshwater ecosystems across the lowlands of New Zealand. With nearly 40% of New Zealand’s land under the guardianship of the two organisations, we knew that by coming together we could make a real impact in tackling some of the country’s most pressing environmental issues.
The mahi (work) of the partnership focuses in five catchments across 35,000 hectares, with each catchment having unique environmental, social, cultural and economic challenges. Fonterra’s sustainable dairying experts and the Department of Conservation rangers work side-by-side to identify the problems to be solved and to ideate and trial different tools and approaches.
The Living Water team quickly found that the two organisations couldn’t address the integrated nature of landscape-scale land and water management on their own, so working relationships and partnerships were also made with the farmers and other landowners in the catchments, scientists, municipal authorities, Māori (local indigenous peoples), and the communities living in the five regions.
It took a bit of time to figure out how to work together, and it wasn’t easy due to the organisations’ having different drivers and values, but the partnership is now thriving. Fonterra and the Department of Conservation recently celebrated eight years of working in partnership and were delighted to share their exciting results.
Working towards a common vision of dairy and freshwater thriving together
The partners know that the rapid expansion of dairying in New Zealand has had negative impacts on water quality and lowland ecosystems. But they also share a common vision of farmers, rural communities and nature thriving together. Together they’ve developed farm environment plans for 72% of Fonterra farmers in the five pilot catchments, all of which include actions to improve freshwater and biodiversity. In addition to having a farm environment plan, 48% of these farmers are taking steps that go above and beyond current regulations to improve freshwater and biodiversity. This includes riparian planting, installing mitigations like detention bunds or peak run-off control structures on their land, improving fish habitat, and protecting and enhancing wetlands. These actions taken over multiple farms are a significant step towards improving freshwater in each catchment, and the results are encouraging.
Designing and trialing solutions
Living Water is trialing tools and approaches that can be scaled up to help improve freshwater across Aotearoa New Zealand. This includes on-farm tools, catchment-based solutions, and addressing implementation barriers like funding, consenting, capability and waterway management.
Thirty-six trials are underway or completed. An on-farm example is a woodchip bioreactor being trialed in the Ararira-LII River (in the Canterbury Region) to reduce nitrates. Installation was easy – consisting of bags of pine woodchips anchored in an intermittently flowing waterway. If successful, simple in-stream tools like this could be used in key areas around the country.
Catchment scale projects, like the Waituna physiographics project (in the Southland Region), have shown where to place interventions and nature-based solutions within catchments to enable them to be most effective. An example of this is the locations of the peak run-off control structures that are being trialed – these were directed by evidence the physiographics project provided, as well as giving information about where the best places are to construct large-scale wetlands to reduce nutrients reaching Waituna Lagoon.
In Pūkorokoro-Miranda (in the Hauraki District), the Catchment Condition Survey and CAPTure tool have provided similar information, allowing the local Western Firth Catchment Group to work together on fencing and planting large areas of steep banks where erosion has been causing sediment in a main waterway. The Living Water team have also been building relationships in the community for many years, leading to the collaboration of community groups, landowners and the Pūkorokoro-Miranda Naturalists Trust who are now all working together toward common catchment goals. They have helped create a Community Trust that is responsible for managing the restoration of a large new reserve that was previously farmland, to increase shorebird habitat in this highly valued and sensitive coastal environment and international RAMSAR site.
Of the 36 tools and solutions being trialed, nine have been scaled to other sites, allowing the team to look at how to lower the cost of implementation and achieve environmental outcomes at a catchment-wide scale. Ten case studies about Living Water projects have also been completed, including for floating wetlands, nitrogen and phosphorus filters, and the CAPTure tool. These case studies have been shared widely with other interested land and water management scientists and organisations.
Championing change to mindsets, approaches, systems and aspirations
Over the past eight years Living Water has developed strong relationships both nationally and within the five pilot catchments. Based on these relationships, an additional 52 partnerships have been forged to help trial and championing change. By partnering with others, this recognises that no single organisation or sector has all the skills, knowledge or influence to improve freshwater and ecosystems, and that solving complex land and water management problems requires more than just on-farm action. By partnering, it makes it easier for farmers, mana whenua (indigenous people) and communities to accelerate environmental improvement.
The 52 partnerships vary in nature from place to place, for example, a partnership with the New Zealand Department of Corrections, ‘Good to Grow’, helps rehabilitate offenders by connecting them to the land. In the Waikato Peat Lakes the Good to Grow partnership has transformed the Lake Ruatuna recreation area by improving the amenity block, removing pest plants, creating a walking track and more recently contouring an area ready for the creation of a pā harakeke (flax nursery). The pā harakeke project is in partnership with Ngāti Apakura (the local mana whenua) and focuses on planting a variety of harakeke (native flax) species so they can be used for traditional weaving. The local Living Water team also work closely with landowners, the Ōhaupō community, the New Zealand National Wetland Trust, Te Mapi Ngāti Hauā Mahi Trust and many more on projects associated with this catchment.
By moving to partnering beyond just Fonterra and the Department of Conservation, the team are sharing the lessons learned over the last eight years. For example, in the Ararira-LII River catchment a partnership was established with the municipal authorities (Selwyn District Council and the Canterbury Regional Council), Te Taumutu Rūnanga (local mana whenua), and the Drainage Committee to develop a shared vision for the catchment and to support the development of an integrated water network management plan. This project is the result of several years of previous work with the University of Canterbury’s waterways team to understand how the water network and waterways function on the plains and how to bring back natural qualities to important habitats.
Ten of the Living Water projects are also directly building iwi and hapū (indigenous tribes and groups) capacity and capability as kaitiaki (guardians) for freshwater and biodiversity. One of these projects is with Ngā Kaitiaki O Ngā Wai Māori in Wairua, Northland, who for two years volunteered alongside the Living Water team learning the scientific methods used to undertake the monthly water quality monitoring programme. They are now paid to carry out the monitoring and undertake a twice-yearly fish survey within the catchment. The Living Water team has also been working closely alongside Ngā Kaitiaki O Ngā Wai Māori to combine western science and mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) in other local catchments projects.
Living Water joined forces with others and is one of seven members that make up the Waimā Waitai Waiora partnership, a project aimed at improving water quality in the Northern Wairoa River and its tributaries in Northland. The partnership has planted over 35,000 trees in the Upper Wairua catchment and accelerated the development of farm environment plans and supported farmer action across the region.
Fonterra and the Department of Conservation know the future of farming will be different and that nature must be put back into the heart of dairying and into productive landscapes in order for our food systems to be regenerated. By working together (and with others), they are using the unique strengths of each organisation to innovate and champion change to how we approach the complex challenge of improving freshwater and biodiversity across Aotearoa New Zealand.
 IPBES: Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, May 2019  IPCC: Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5 degrees, October 2018  NZ Ministry for the Environment: Environment Aotearoa 2019 Report, April 2019  The physiographic approach is an integrated or ‘systems view’ that combines landscape attributes, such as soil type and topography, with the key processes affecting water quality in surface and shallow groundwater. Unlike other mapping and classification approaches, the physiographic approach incorporates water quality, physical, chemical and hydrological reactions into a spatial format to identify, select, combine and classify the natural landscape factors that cause variations in water quality. Areas that have similar attributes and hydrology are called Physiographic Units (PGU).