A guide to the Freshwater Policy

We’re here to help you meet the new guidelines

It’s important for all farmers to understand the Essential Freshwater Policy and what it means for you. We’re here to help you navigate these rules, by supporting on-farm innovation with clever science and world-leading tools. Together, we will continue to help improve water quality across New Zealand.

What effects will this have on-farm?

We’ve summarised the main points in this easy guide - read on to get an overview of how the new policy applies to you. On the right you’ll find links to read the full policy documents.

Nitrogen fertiliser cap


Intensive winter grazing

Areas used for intensive winter grazing from November 2022 onwards must comply with a series of default conditions described below. If conditions for the cropped area cannot be met, you will need to obtain a certified freshwater farm plan to demonstrate intensive winter grazing is being well managed. If your farm does not have a certified freshwater farm plan, then a resource consent may be required.

Intensive winter grazing includes any annual forage crop grazed by livestock between 1 May and 30 September. 



The current proposed conditions for intensive winter grazing include:


The cropped area is no greater than 50 ha or 10% of the total property area, whichever is greater. It must also be no greater than the largest total area used of intensive winter grazing in any single year between 2014-2019.


The maximum slope over any 20 m distance in the cropped area used for intensive winter grazing must be 10 degrees or less.


Farmers should take all reasonably practical steps to minimise the effects of pugging in cropped areas.

Livestock exclusion

All livestock must be kept more than 5m away from all waterways (including rivers, lakes, wetlands and drains), regardless of whether water is flowing.


Farmers should aim to resow vegetation as ground cover as soon as practicable after grazing after livestock have finished grazing.

Critical source areas

Critical source areas that are within or adjacent to any area used for intensive winter grazing must remain un-grazed, have vegetation cover maintained, and remain uncultivated or harvested of annual forage crops.


Intensification and land use


Converting more than 10ha of land to a more intensive use now requires resource consent. This applies to plantation forestry to pastoral, pastoral to dairy, or increasing the irrigated area in a dairy system. There are also restrictions around increasing dairy support land area. 




Stock exclusion

Note - this does not apply to sheep


Wetland management


Disturbance of wetlands (i.e. earthworks, vegetation clearance) is only permitted for certain reasons (e.g. restoration, scientific research, and clearing debris). Councils must receive at least 10 days' notice of these activities, and may require consent



Feedlots and stock holding areas

From winter 2021, feedlots will need to meet minimum standards for permeability, effluent management, and proximity to waterbodies.


Water takes

From 03 September 2022, irrigation consent holders who take more than 20 litres of water per second must:

  • Measure water use every 15 minutes
  • Electronically submit records to council every day.

This applies to takes more than 10 litres of water per second from 2024 and more thank 5 litres of water per second from 2026.


MyBallance Nitrogen reporting

We're here to help you with nitrogen reporting

The easiest way to report your nitrogen use is through your MyBallance account using our Nitrogen limit management feature. Learn more about the reporting requirements and the new feature here.

Find out more

Click here for our overview document.


Key documents

These are listed below and took effect on 3 September 2020:


For more information

To discuss the specific requirements for your farm, contact your local Regional Council.

For industry information on the policy, contact Beef & Lamb, DairyNZ, Deer lndustry NZ, HortNZ.

Contact your local Ballance Nutrient Specialist or one of our Farm Sustainability Services team. Alternatively, contact our Customer Services team on 0800 222 090.