Wednesday, 21 February 2024 16:25

Sustainability Update: Freshwater Farm Plans Update

Written by  Dr Edwin Massey
The Crossings The Crossings

Helping members navigate the upcoming Regulations

In 2023 the Government introduced requirements that all mixed-use farms over 20-hectares and viticultural/horticultural properties over 5ha would require a certified and audited Freshwater Farm Plan to mitigate the impact of primary sector land use on freshwater ecosystems. Nationally, these requirements will impact more than 1,300 vineyards. These regulations will be activated on a region-by-region basis from now up until the end of 2025. Once activated in a particular region or catchment, primary sector land users have 18 months to develop a Freshwater Farm Plan and submit it for certification.

New Zealand Winegrowers (NZW) has advocated on behalf of members that Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand (SWNZ) should be the vehicle our members can use to meet these new planning requirements to internalise and reduce transaction costs as much as possible. Government has been listening and has recently changed the primary legislation to give more scope to assurance programmes like SWNZ.

Recent changes to the Resource Management Act (RMA) now allow regional councils to approve industry assurance programmes (IAPs) to provide certification and/or audit services to their members. Providers will need to apply to a regional council for approval to provide these services. A regional council will assess an IAP against set standards which will be issued by the Minister for the Environment. NZW will be involved in the policy work to develop these standards during 2024. This work is getting underway.

Roll Out of the Regulations

The Freshwater Farm Plan regulations were activated in Southland and Waikato including the Waitaki Valley and the West Coast, in February 2024. From April they will start to roll out in parts of the Manawatū-Whanganui (Horizons) region. Winegrowing is not a common land use in any of these initial regions but there are vineyards in North Otago and Horizons that will require Freshwater Farm Plans to be developed.

Regional councils will be working to provide information on what to do to get started in your region. It is important to remember that once the regulations are activated in your region you will still have 18 months to develop a Freshwater Farm Plan and submit it for certification. Nonetheless, it is important to commence preparation in a timely manner.

NZW is working with a range of regional councils and will update members on the roll out of the regulations in other regions as soon as possible.

Home to New Zealand's largest wine region, the Marlborough District Council has developed a specific catchment-by-catchment roll out plan as follows:

 Catchment Regulations Activated  Submit Plan for Certification By 
Are Are Creek 1 July 2024 31 Dec 2025
Tuamarina, Pelorus Catchment/Te Hoiere, Linkwater and Flaxbourne 1 Jan 2025 30 June 2026
Mill Creek, Taylor, Omaka River, Ōpaoa, Spring Creek, Kenepuru River 1 July 2025 31 Dec 2026
Remaining catchments 31 Dec 2025 30 June 2027

Increasing Education and Awareness

The Ministry for the Environment (MfE) is working to set up a network of suppliers across the country to provide free support, training, and resources for farmers and growers to develop their own Freshwater Farm Plan. This support should be available from the middle of 2024. NZW will work closely with MfE and share information on these opportunities with members as they become available.

Many regional councils are now working to provide information on what farmers can do to get started. For example, in Marlborough a range of meetings based on specific catchments were planned to begin in late January. Information can be found on the Marlborough District Council website (, including timings for public meetings.

Can SWNZ be the Vehicle to Assist Members with Meeting Their Regulatory Requirements?

Over the past 18 months NZW, with financial support from Ministry of Primary Industries, had worked with the Agribusiness Group on a project called ‘Supercharging SWNZ’. This project aimed to compare SWNZ requirements with Freshwater Farm Plan regulatory requirements, conduct a gap analysis and make recommendations on how to adapt the SWNZ programme so that it would minimise the costs of Freshwater Farm planning as much as possible. That work has progressed well, and the final report will be available shortly. NZW is now working on how to implement the recommendations contained in the report and will share more information with members as soon as possible. This work is a key priority for 2024 and will also be important to promote education and awareness of Freshwater Farm planning to members across the country.

If you have any questions about what Freshwater Farm planning means for you, please refer to the NZW website ( or get in contact with me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 021 1924 924.

Dr Edwin Massey is NZW General Manager Sustainability

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