Looking after water on the land

This page has information on the Good Farming Practice principles which are designed to help farmers and growers reduce their impact on freshwater.

About the Good Farming Practice principles

The Good Farming Practice principles and an action plan for putting them into practice were developed through a partnership between primary sector organisations, regional councils and Government. The principles were updated from the 2015 Industry-Agreed Good Management Practices Relating to Water Quality. While first applied in Canterbury, they were developed to be applicable across all regions of New Zealand.

The action plan has four main components.

  • A set of good farming practice principles that are practical and achievable.
  • Every farmer and grower being supported to have a Farm Environment Plan to help them identify and implement  the relevant good farming practices for their farm and catchment.
  • Monitoring and reporting so land and water stewardship can be demonstrated.
  • Communicating progress to the sectors and the public.

Read the action plan [Federated Farmers of New Zealand website]

Agreed National Good Farming Practice principles

General principles

  • Identify the physical and biophysical characteristics of the farm system, assess the risk factors to water quality associated with the farm system, and manage appropriately.
  • Maintain accurate and auditable records of annual farm inputs, outputs and management practices.
  • Manage farming operations to minimise direct and indirect losses of sediment and nutrients to water, and maintain or enhance soil structure, where agronomically appropriate.


  • Monitor soil phosphorus levels and maintain them at or below the agronomic optimum for the farm system
  • Manage the amount and timing of fertiliser inputs, taking account of all sources of nutrients, to match plant requirements and minimise risk of losses.
  • Store and load fertiliser to minimise risk of spillage, leaching and loss into water bodies
  • Ensure equipment for spreading fertilisers is well maintained and calibrated.
  • Store, transport and distribute feed to minimise wastage, leachate and soil damage.


  • Identify risk of overland flow of sediment and faecal bacteria on the property and implement measures to minimise transport of these to water bodies.
  • Locate and manage farm tracks, gateways, water troughs, self-feeding areas, stock camps, wallows and other sources of run-off to minimise risks to water quality.
  • Exclude stock from water bodies to the extent that is compatible with land form, stock class and stock intensity. Where exclusion is not possible, mitigate impacts on waterways.

Land and soil

  • Manage periods of exposed soil between crops/ pasture to reduce risk of erosion, overland flow and leaching.
  • Manage or retire erosion prone land to minimise soil losses through appropriate measures and practices. (Implementing this principle may mean that Class 8 land is not actively farmed for arable, pastoral or commercial forestry land uses as this land is generally unsuitable for these uses as described in the Land Use Capability Handbook.)
  • Select appropriate paddocks for intensive grazing, recognising and mitigating possible nutrient and sediment loss from critical source areas.
  • Manage grazing to minimise losses from critical source areas.


  • Ensure the effluent system meets industry specific Code of Practice or equivalent standard.
  • Have sufficient, suitable storage available for farm effluent and wastewater.
  • Ensure equipment for spreading effluent and other organic manures is well maintained and calibrated.
  • Apply effluent to pasture and crops at depths, rates and times to match plant requirements and minimise risk to water bodies.

Water and irrigation

  • Manage the amount and timing of irrigation inputs to meet plant demands and minimise risk of leaching and runoff.
  • Design, check and operate irrigation systems to minimise the amount of water needed to meet production objectives.

Farm Environment Plans

A Farm Environment Plan helps farmers recognise on-farm environmental risks and set out a programme to manage those risks. Farmers are sometimes required by regulation to develop a Farm Environment Plan. They are now recognised as good business practice, a visible indication of sustainable activity on farm.

Download the factsheet on Farm Environment Plans and see examples [Federated Farmers of New Zealand website]

Find out more

Read about and watch a video on farming good management practices in Canterbury [ECan website].