Canterbury Good Management Practice story

Delivering improved farm outcomes

Watch our video on farming for Canterbury - 'kai for tomorrow'

Farming for Canterbury - 'kai for tomorrow'

The Canterbury Good Management Practice story brings together a comprehensive nutrient / water quality package that combines robust science, best practice regulation and non-regulatory implementation, together with a farmer-focused solution supported by Government, industry and Ngāi Tahu.

The Canterbury approach

Since the Canterbury Water Management Strategy was introduced in 2010, the community has been working together to plan and implement the best ways to manage our freshwater:

  • To support community use (mahinga kai, drinking water and recreation)
  • To achieve ecosystem health
  • To support sustainable economic development.
Watch our video on Canterbury farming Good Management Practice

Canterbury farming Good Management Practice

Drivers for change

Central Government direction, regional policy and local delivery driven by the community, all play significant parts in Canterbury’s approach to freshwater management.

Key resources

Central Government 
Freshwater management

Freshwater management

The National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management and National Environmental Standards are the central Government direction that regional councils must adhere to in setting quantity and quality limits on all freshwater bodies.

Regional policy

A decade ago the Canterbury Mayoral Forum decided on a new collaborative approach to freshwater management in the region.

The result was the CWMS - Canterbury Water Management Strategy Strategic Framework (PDF File, 3.03MB).

The CWMS seeks to address Canterbury’s freshwater issues in a collaborative way to enable present and future generations to gain the greatest social, economic, recreational and cultural benefits from our water resources. The strategy sets out targets for water management in Canterbury for the next 30 years.

Ten zone committees are responsible for developing water management programmes in their own areas so that these targets can be met.

Rangitata rivermouth

Rangitata River mouth

The targets are reviewed every three years and no target takes priority.

  1. Ecosystem health/biodiversity
  2. Natural character of braided rivers
  3. Kaitiakitanga
  4. Drinking water
  5. Recreational and amenity opportunities
  6. Water-use efficiency
  7. Irrigated land area
  8. Energy security and efficiency
  9. Regional and national economies
  10. Environmental limits.

Local delivery

Zone committees

Regional and Zone Implementation Programmes and Addenda

The Regional Committee established under the Canterbury Water Management Strategy (CWMS) has its own implementation programme.

Te Waihora /  Lake Ellesmere

Te Waihora / Lake Ellesmere

The 10 Water Zone Committees were set up to deliver zone implementation programmes for their catchments, consisting of plan recommendations and non-regulatory activities to improve water quality.

An example: The Selwyn Waihora Water Zone Committee was one of the first to make a set of plan recommendations to the local territorial authority and Environment Canterbury.

These recommendations made their way into the Canterbury Land & Water Regional Plan in modified form following completion of the Resource Management Act process.

The Zone Committee is now focused on plan implementation and catchment-based activities to improve water quality.

 Planning framework

Canterbury Land & Water Regional Plan
Water in rural and urban settings

Water in rural and urban settings

The Canterbury Land & Water Regional Plan was introduced in 2012.

It aims to help deliver community aspirations for water quality in both urban and rural areas.


Sub-regional plans

Pareora River enters the sea

Zone Implementation Programme Addenda form the basis of sub-regional plans, which following completion of Resource Management Act processes become sections of the Canterbury Land & Water Regional Plan covering local catchment water quality management. The best available science informs catchment modelling.

Catchment plans

As well as sub-regional plans, there are also a number of separate catchment plans:

Nutrient loss limits

Farming is essential to the economy and as the community’s food basket. We acknowledge that farming has an impact on the land. Experience and science tell us that farming and the environment can work together, with the right checks and balances.


Working within farm limits

That’s why farmers are required to work to limits, informed by the best available science.

Our rules are already some of the toughest in the country. In particularly sensitive areas like Selwyn Te Waihora, they will continue to tighten. It’s about making a difference now, so the effects of the past can be mitigated and we can look to a sustainable, value-adding future.

The nitrogen loss limit is a measure of the environmental footprint within which the farm can operate.

The nitrogen losses for each farm are determined from a baseline of several years’ farming operations, and are usually set to reduce over time.

To work out the maximum amount of nitrogen losses, farmers first need to establish their losses. This is usually done with the help of a farm advisor.

Good Management Practice

In 2015, a group from across the agricultural industries worked together to agree a set of Good Management Practices. A major scientific process modelled nitrogen loss rates at Good Management Practice.

This industry-led process set the standard for what farmers should, at the minimum, be achieving. In Canterbury today, farming to Good Management Practice is now an accepted part of good business.

Deer farm

Deer farm

Participating industries:

Good Management Practice resources:

Farm Environment Plans
Fenced stream

Fenced stream

To apply Good Management Practices to their own farms, each Canterbury farmer must create a Farm Environment Plan.

Working through the Farm Environment Plan helps them recognise on-farm environmental risks and set out a programme to manage those risks.

Each Farm Environment Plan is unique.  It reflects the local climate and soils, the type of farming operation, the requirements in planning rules, and the goals and aspirations of the land user.

The Farm Environment Plan is a living document; a report card to scrutinise farm performance against each Good Management Practice.

Mahinga kai targets are now often required in Farm Environment Plans. Mahinga kai is about the value of natural resources – our birds, plants, fish, and other animals and resources that sustain life, including the life of people.

Everyone has a part to play in protecting and enhancing mahinga kai. As the current guardians of the land where mahinga kai species live, landowners have clear responsibilities.

Since 2017, farmers in the Cultural Landscape Values Area around Te Waihora in the Selwyn catchment have had mahinga kai values and targets in their Farm Environment Plans.

Further reading

Farm Environment Plan Audit
Farm audit

Farm audit

The focus in Canterbury has now shifted from planning to monitoring and review of land use consents, property nitrogen loss limits and Farm Environment Plans, and implementation of an audit programme.

Environment Canterbury is the first regional council in New Zealand to introduce such a comprehensive review process.

The Farm Environment Plan Audit recognises all the Good Management Practice work the farmer has done and the limits they are working to, and provides a measurable process to enforce these expectations.

During the audit, the farmer must present evidence that their farming meets the standards expected from the Industry Agreed Good Management Practices, as well as the property nitrogen loss limits and any specific conditions of the land use consent.

Getting ready for the audit takes time, as it involves many different types of evidence. These include records relating to all Good Management Practices, as well as farm diaries, photos, soil records, inspection sheets, maintenance records and nitrogen loss calculations.

Information is also required for a pre-audit check covering a review of the Farm Environment Plan, the nutrient budget, land use consent, and previous audit results.

The auditor reviews the documentation and asks questions about farming practices. They view the farm, noting Good Management Practices in place and areas for improvement, and provide an audit report, grade, and actions for improvement.

The farmer reviews the audit report before it is finalised and provided to Environment Canterbury, the irrigation scheme or farm collective.

The date of first audits is either 12 months from approval of the land use consent or determined by the farm’s scheme or collective.

Timeframes for subsequent audits depend on the previous grade:

  • A grade = 3 years (4 within an irrigation scheme)
  • B grade = 2 years
  • C grade = 12 months
  • D grade = 6 months
  • Change in manager or farm systems = 12 months.

A and B grades are compliant with the land use consent, while C and D grades are non-compliant. To receive an A grade a farmer needs to achieve a high level of competency across every Good Management Practice.

Receiving a C or D audit grade is a signal that something is wrong and the farm is not meeting the agreed Good Management Practices or property nitrogen loss limits. The farmer is expected to develop a plan based on the actions provided by the auditor. The action plan will be included in the Farm Environment Plan, and is required before the farmer can receive an A or B grade on the next audit, which will be within 6 months (D grade) or a year (C grade). Another C or D grade will result in enforcement action being taken to require improvement.

Independent, qualified auditors

All Farm Environment Plan auditors are independent and certified by Environment Canterbury or connected to an Environment Canterbury-approved ISO accredited audit programme, such as Synlait’s Lead with Pride, to ensure their competency and consistency.

Checks are made on the proficiency of the auditor and their adherence to the Canterbury Farm Environment Plan Auditor Manual. They also undertake training in particular areas such as mahinga kai (PDF File, 10.78MB).

Using audit data

Farm Environment Plan audit information is used for planning and to support Environment Canterbury’s work. It is reported to communities, Ngāi Tahu and industry to demonstrate progress towards meeting Good Management Practice standards. This information is treated as private, and is reported at an aggregated level.

More information

Land use consents

Under the Canterbury Land & Water Regional Plan, farmers who have irrigation or winter grazing may need a land use consent to farm.

The conditions of the consent vary from zone to zone. They make sure the Farm Environment Plan requirements are met and include a limit on allowable nitrogen losses. A condition of the land use consent is that the Farm Environment Plan and nitrogen limits are audited within 12 months' approval of the consent.

Campaign approach

To help farmers understand the requirement for a land use consent to farm, we developed an award-winning campaign.

Call to action - five steps to getting the 'thumbs up'

  1. GMP 5 step programmCreate your Farm Environment Plan
  2. Prepare your nutrient budget
  3. Apply for your resource consent
  4. Have your Farm Environment Plan audited
  5. Plan for reductions in nitrogen loss


  • Media editorial and advertising – including urban to build awareness of the programme farmers were undertaking.
  • Letters to farmers with the '5 steps', including Q&A and website links - staged (to allow for capacity of rural professionals and consents staff) and targeted (highest-risk in nutrient red zones first).
  • Drop-in sessions.
  • Industry-led workshops.
  • Follow-up phone calls and visits.

After our initial focus on irrigation schemes, we targeted the few sensitive lake farms. We then focused on farms with more than 50 hectares of irrigation, followed by zone-specific campaigns.

Most farms in Canterbury are now consented or well on the way towards it. We next sent warning letters to the few farms that had not yet obtained their consent or taken steps towards doing so.

Then we focused on the Farm Environment Plan audit and reporting on the performance of Canterbury farms in relation to Good Management Practice.

Reporting back

We report back to the community on how we are going with several of the activities described above - numbers of Farm Environment Plans; what FEP audits are showing; awareness of mahinga kai values and stock exclusion.

Compliance monitoring and enforcement

Using our zone delivery teams, we aim to work with resource users to ensure they comply with their resource consents, regional rules and other Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) obligations.

We also work with zone committees and use a risk-based approach to focus our attention in the right areas.

Non-regulatory activities - action on the ground

Local catchment projects
Ecosystem health

Ecosystem health

Zone Implementation Programmes include a range of outcomes that require on-the-ground action rather than regulation. Zone committees, zone delivery teams and many others including primary sector organisations work to achieve these via local catchment projects aimed to improve ecosystem health and biodiversity.

Further reading