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Otago farmers' group in water quality drive

Land & Water

Farmers in the Pomahaka River catchment in southwest Otago have teamed up to test water in their catchment to identify why and where water quality problems are occurring and improve farm practices where needed.

The catchment covers roughly 2060 km² from its headwaters in the Umbrella Mountains to its junction with the Clutha River. The Pomahaka is a recognised trout fishery and is popular for swimming and kayaking.

NZ Landcare Trust regional coordinator Janet Gregory said that funding from the Ministry of Primary Industry’s Sustainable Farming Fund had enabled the Trust to form a representative stakeholder group to tackle water quality issues in the catchment. Stakeholders include DairyNZ, Beef + Lamb NZ, milk supply companies, fertiliser companies, Fish and Game New Zealand, and local iwi.

“Water quality in the Pomahaka catchment has some particularly bad hotspots and we wanted to implement land management practices that would make a difference,” says Janet.

“Having farmers take action to form their own group is a positive outcome. Water quality has been degrading over a long period and it won’t get better over night; but the actions of the Pomahaka Farmers Water Care Group will have an impact for the better.”

Lloyd McCall talks about the Pomahaka project at a catchment field day.

Lloyd McCall talks about the Pomahaka project at a catchment field day.

Chairman of the group is Kelso farmer Lloyd McCall who says he decided to take action last year when he found out that the river was under pressure.

An advertisement in the local paper, industry contacts and word-of-mouth brought together 85 farmers who formed the Pomahaka Farmers Water Care Group. Each farmer contributed $250 to fund water quality testing. Lloyd says ultimately he is aiming to get 250 farmers on board.

“All the farmers in the area care about water quality and want to keep the river in good shape for our children and future generations. We wanted to find out what was causing the problems, so we could help to fix them. If we don’t have information, we don’t have power,” says Lloyd.

DairyNZ water quality specialist, Shirley Hayward who has reviewed the data collected so far, says while there have been some improvements, there are localised issues with priority contaminants such as sediment, phosphorous, and e-coli bacteria, but these can be improved by good riparian management.

DairyNZ is supporting the project by helping 45 dairy farmers in the area develop Sustainable Milk Plans by funding agricultural consultants to deliver free advice to help farmers assess their business for environmental risks and opportunities and help them plan for the future.

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