In the early 2000s the Taupo District Council and Waikato Regional Council realised the quality of the water in Lake Taupo was being severely compromised, largely due to nitrogen from farms leaching into the lake. To mitigate this problem and improve the quality of the water, a mechanism to control the amount of nitrogen was created. Each farm in the catchment area was analysed, using Overseer, a land assessment tool, and NDAs (Nitrogen Discharge Allowances) were allocated. This meant that every farm had a limit on the amount of nitrogen they could discharge.
To encourage farmers to reduce their discharge and support them to move to more sustainable and environmental farming, the government established an $80 million fund. The aim was to limit animal numbers and change dairy, sheep and beef land-use to forestry, to help reduce the amount of nitrogen leaching into Lake Taupo. Farmers could then sell NDAs they no longer required to the Lake Taupo Protection Trust who would then cancel them. The target was to reduce the nitrogen level in the lake by 20 percent over the next 50 years or so.
It was a significant challenge for the Lake Taupo Protection Trust to get farmers onboard, so they approached eLandNZ with the mandate of getting farmers to permanently reduce their nitrogen discharge and to help them transition away from dairy, sheep and beef farming. eLandNZ met with farmers who had been impacted by these new regulations and spent time with them assessing their farms and investigating options to reduce nitrogen while maintaining or improving revenue.
eLandNZ determined that by converting areas of farmland to forestry the farmers could create a passive revenue stream through selling the carbon units created from their planted areas. The farmers also benefited from selling back NDAs that were no longer required if they had also reduced their stock units or improved their farming techniques. In addition to making recommendations, eLandNZ helped farmers through the transition and in many instances, helped them achieve greater returns per-hectare than they had previously.
This case illustrates that by providing financial mechanisms and incentives to support change you can achieve positive environmental outcomes.