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Driving good water management practices on New Zealand farms

New Zealand has a world-class reputation of being at the forefront of clean and green agriculture, and farmers play a huge role in this environmental image. Nana Bortsie-Aryee recently submitted his PhD thesis on how farmers improve their water footprints. Here he shares what drives farmers’ proactive behaviour in water management.

Nana carried out farm visits and conducted interviews with farmers across the North and South Islands, specifically Otago, Southland, Canterbury, and Waikato, as part of his three-year study at the University of Otago, in collaboration with AbacusBio.

Questions were asked to better understand what influences them to improve water management at the farm level, and how these influencers and drivers lead to the practices implemented.

The study found that there were four key factors that impacted on how proactive farmers behaved in respect to water management. These factors are:

  1. Compliance The benefits of keeping up-to-date with legislation help ensure that farms can operate profitably within the regulatory framework.
  2. Environmental conscience Farmers have a hedonic interest in protecting the natural environment, which drives their investment in protective practices.
  3. Cost-effectiveness In ensuring compliance, farmers are aware that there are cost-effective approaches in water management, which deliver real profitability benefits.
  4. Long-term benefits Farmers are motivated that their management changes would deliver tangible long-term benefits not just in profitability but also in protecting the environment.

The main rationale behind these four major factors, Nana remarks, was that farmers are able to foresee that benefits far outweigh the costs through improvements in nitrogen and water use efficiency, pasture growth, and farm productivity.

“Knowledge around how water management can bring real benefits is essentially the core of what opens up their minds to practise good water management.”

However, at the end of the day, skills and experience are also key to effectively help combine resources within the farm system. These resources include infrastructure, access to equipment, and capability training.