Environment Minister David Parker has made a stunning admission that dairy farmers may have to reduce cow numbers in some parts of the country to meet tough new regulations being considered by the Government.
Mr Parker today told Q+A he's pushing ahead with the new rules to protect waterways from the harmful impact of intensive dairy farming.
The Environment Minister is on a mission to clean up New Zealand's dirty waterways. He wants tougher nationwide soil quality rules that would cut nutrient and effluent loss into rivers.
The upshot would be fewer cows.
"Yes in some areas, the number of cows per hectare is higher than the environment can sustain. That won't be done through a raw cap on cow numbers, it will be done on nutrient limits, the amount of nutrient that can be lost from a farm to a waterway," he said.
Mr Parker warned there will be no compensation for farmers affected.
"No, you don't compensate people for stopping pollution."
But Federated Farmers insists recent studies show progress is already being made.
Chris Allan of Federated Farmers said a report found, "we've got more waterways improving than actually getting worse".
As for what cutting cow numbers would mean for communities dependent on dairying, Mr Parker doesn't know.
It's much harder to find replacements that actually work in the real world- Paul Goldsmith, National's Economic Development spokesperson
"We haven't done an analysis of what the economic effects would be. But it's very, very difficult to model," he said.
National says the Government doesn't want the public to know the cost of reducing cow numbers.
"They don't want to know what the costs of reducing stock numbers would be and a shift away from our dairy-based economy. And they sure as heck don't want the people of New Zealand to know what those costs are," said Paul Goldsmith, National's Economic Development spokesperson.
Mr Parker, however, says said the Government will help farmers switch to cleaner farming practices, such as horticulture.
"We're actually not going to subsidise land use change, but we will enable it through the new technologies that we are willing to subsidise to bring forward," he said.
Mr Goldsmith said: "It's very easy to close down large industries and reduce large industries. It's much harder to find replacements that actually work in the real world."
Q+A presenter Corin Dann says water is now shaping as big battleground issue for the Government this term, and we can expect more details on the new regulations later this year.