New tool a game-changer for freshwater management in Auckland

With $452 million of targeted rates earmarked over 10 years to improve water quality, the Auckland Council is making sure it invests in the right solutions and implements regulations that are feasible and practical for everyone.

Developing a framework for informing this decision-making is required of regional authorities through the Government’s National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management.

Rather than reinventing the wheel, Auckland Council took its lead from the United States, where the country’s Environmental Protection Agency (US-EPA) had developed tools to inform its response to the country’s Clean Water Act – with great results.

Over the last 5 years, Auckland Council has built on this international and local expertise to develop its own Freshwater Management Tool (FWMT). But they were careful to tailor it to the specific needs of the Auckland region.

The result is an accounting framework that will help the Council understand and report on water quality in both urban and rural areas. It can also model potential changes, including tracking changes to water quality and quantity from targeted funding, rule-based and voluntary action – from mountain to sea and farm to city.

Weighing up the options

The first of its kind in New Zealand, the FWMT is a valuable action-planning tool. It tests the benefits and costs to landholders, developers and other resource users, of managing water quality limits.

Auckland Council’s scientist Dr Tom Stephens (Principal – Integrated Catchments) says the FWMT tests what’s feasible and helps identify the best mix of actions for the least cost to achieve catchment water quality goals. This includes improving water flow, managing nutrient levels, and minimising sediment, metals and E. coli.

“The FWMT vastly improves our knowledge of water quality, in terms of its current state, the causes of degradation and when it is occurring,” he says.

“We have gone from knowledge of 36 monitored spot-locations to 5,465 modelled catchments. From monitored information once a month, to information about water quality every 15-minutes. From negligible information on contaminant sources, to understanding underlying contributions from 100+ unique urban and rural land uses throughout catchments. It really is a game-changer for water quality science in New Zealand.

“This knowledge is crucial so we can pinpoint where money can be best spent to have the most positive impact. It also informs our regulatory process so we can be confident the resourcing and rules for freshwater management are feasible, fair and targeted to the places and times needed.”

Supporting farmers and growers

The FWMT makes Auckland Council unique in terms of the support it can offer farmers and growers to help achieve the goals in their Freshwater Farm Plans (FW-FP). Tom explains.

“Using information about where, when and why contaminant loss occurs, the FWMT can offer detailed catchment information to farmers, growers and advisors,” he says.

“By modelling possible actions in each catchment to identify the least-cost way to achieve a target, the FWMT can also help advisors and landholders make better decisions on-farm.

“The tool can help identify opportunities on each farm for wetlands, detainment bunds, soil conservation on highly erodible land, riparian management, good farming practices and farm management changes.”

By incorporating actions from a farmer’s FW-FP into the FWMT, improved water quality can be forecast years before it is observed. This gives farmers and growers recognition for the actions they are taking now.

Partnership approach

The development of the FWMT is an iterative process and involves direct engagement and partnership with several leading researchers in the agriculture, engineering, development and tertiary sectors.

Perrin Ag is leading various work projects to help Auckland Council generate information about costs, benefits and opportunities for management practices and mitigation options for the rural sector, including pastoral, horticulture and forestry.

Perrin Ag has provided detailed estimates of mitigation options for horticultural, pastoral and forestry systems in the Auckland region. Specifically, estimates of the life-cycle costs over 50-years on a farm business and estimates of the effectiveness of various farm management mitigations and ‘edge of field’ interventions, such as wetlands, detainment bunds, buffers and erosion space-planting.

Perrin Ag is leading a joint project with HortNZ, Auckland Council, growers and various experts to develop better knowledge of horticultural systems and options to manage water quality. The firm is leading the exercise with growers, HortNZ, the Agribusiness Group, researchers and representatives from Ministry for Environment and Ministry of Primary industries.

The FWMT is supported by ongoing funding from Auckland Council to continuously improve the tool and better support farming, iwi, government and developer decisions.

For more information about this project, email [email protected] or contact Tom Stephens on [email protected] or 021 196 1550.



Lee Matheson

Managing Director
Principal Consultant

B.Appl.Sc (Hons), FNZIPIM (Reg)

Lee came to agribusiness consultancy via the unlikely pathway of a suburban Wellington upbringing, an Honours degree in plant science and a six-year career in the financial markets. In his role as the firm’s MD, Lee doesn’t get out on-farm as much as he used to but makes the most of it when he does. While having swapped the paddock for the boardroom, Lee continues to provide advice in the areas of farm business strategy, farm system innovation, corporate governance, investment analysis and economic research.

Outside of Perrin Ag, Lee loves to spend his time coaching rugby, watching his three kids play sport and gardening with his wife Haidee.

“I love the challenge of empowering people in our primary sectors and the excitement of seeing clients achieving their aspirations. If we can encourage farmers to engage with their consumers, take a more active involvement in their supply chains and view their businesses through a wider lens, then I think our industries have a great future.”

Michael Booth

Senior Consultant

B.Com Af (FM)

Mike brings a wealth of agri-tech and dairy systems expertise to Perrin Ag. After graduating with a Bachelor of AgriCommerce from Massey, he started his career with DairyNZ as a consulting officer where he ran discussion groups and managed farm supervision.

He left DairyNZ to travel the world but within a few months Covid hit, the borders closed, and Mike and his wife Nikita returned home. Back in New Zealand, he took up a role managing DairyNZ’s monitor farms on the Hauraki Plains before joining Halter.

After finishing his OE, he returned home to live in Papamoa and joined the Perrin Ag team in February 2024.

“I’m not someone who likes to sit still and I like to be continually learning. I saw an opportunity with Perrin Ag. As a business their ethos is about continuous improvement and learning. There are always new and better ways of doing things and we need to be at the forefront of that for our clients.”

Abbey Dowd

Consultant

B.Ag.Sc (Hons), MNZIPIM

Abbey joined Perrin Ag in February 2023 as part of the firm’s graduate recruitment programme, Empower.

Abbey grew up surrounded by dairy farms in a close-knit community in South Waikato. She saw first-hand how local farmers supported her community, which is what inspired her to study at Lincoln University.

Growing up in a rural community Abbey has always been impressed by how much local farmers contribute to the community. She wanted to help give back to the industry and play a part in helping our primary sector continue to produce quality food in a sustainable way.

In 2022, Abbey spent the summer as an intern on one of New Zealand’s first commercial deer milking operations. Her Honours project was researching deer milk alongside other more traditional milking operations and assessing the deer milking industry’s future production possibilities.

“Growing up I didn’t live on a farm, but I always knew I wanted to work in the farming sector. I wanted a role where there was a balance between working on and off farm and where I could support farmers to get the best out of their businesses.”

Sam Gray

Consultant

Sam grew up on a dairy farm in the Far North. After graduating from the University of Otago in 2005 with an Honours degree in molecular biotechnology, he spent several years working in medical research in New Zealand and Scotland. Upon returning to New Zealand in 2012, he spent four seasons dairy farming in Northland before purchasing a 56 ha block in Taupо̄, where he was first exposed to farming under a nitrogen cap. Sam joined Perrin Ag in 2023 and brings his strong analytical skills that are grounded by a pragmatic approach to problem solving. Outside of farming and consultancy, you’ll likely find him fly fishing, hunting or snowboarding.

“A lot of farmers feel overwhelmed in the face of a rapidly changing regulatory landscape. I strive to help farmers understand what these environmental regulations mean for their business, and offer practical solutions that allow them to keep doing what they do best, whilst remaining compliant”.

Danni Armstrong

Finance administrator

Danni grew up on a life style block in Atiamuri and spent five seasons as a relief milker in the area. During this time, her full time roles were in various fields including the rental car, health care and marine industries. Danni has had a focus on administrative and accounting duties, but is also proficient in looking after customers especially well, social media and website operation, running a rental car fleet and the associated tasks like training, rosters, H&S and organising repairs! Danni joined Perrin Ag in May 2021, to be part of a business in an industry she is passionate about.

During her spare time Danni can be found reading a book with her cats or out enjoying the walks in Rotorua’s Redwoods.

“What motivates me each day is knowing that I will be challenged with a range of problem solving tasks. I love to see all the figures adding up and knowing that my role makes a difference to the team.”

Duncan Walker

Director
Principal Consultant

B.Appl.Sc, MNZIPIM (Reg)

Coming from a drystock and dairy farming background, Duncan has always been passionate about growing primary sector businesses. Whether it’s pastoral farming, forestry, horticulture or investments outside the farm gate, sustainably optimising business performance is Duncan’s passion. After graduating from Massey University with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Agribusiness, Duncan’s first opportunity to optimise a farm business was by undertaking a dairy conversion. Duncan project managed the conversion and continued to run the dairy farm for a further three years.

Since joining Perrin Ag in 2011 Duncan works with a wide range of clients including those ‘outside the farm gate’. With his strong background in investment analysis, business strategy and project management, Duncan is increasingly working with clients to analyse and integrate horticulture and forestry investments into their farm businesses.

“I enjoy helping clients navigate through the complexities of today’s operational, financial and environmental challenges. Seeing clients achieve their goals is very rewarding”

Lee Matheson

Managing Director
Principal Consultant

B.Appl.Sc (Hons), FNZIPIM (Reg)

Lee came to agribusiness consultancy via the unlikely pathway of a suburban Wellington upbringing, an Honours degree in plant science and a six-year career in the financial markets. In his role as the firm’s MD, Lee doesn’t get out on-farm as much as he used to but makes the most of it when he does. While having swapped the paddock for the boardroom, Lee continues to provide advice in the areas of farm business strategy, farm system innovation, corporate governance, investment analysis and economic research.

Outside of Perrin Ag, Lee loves to spend his time coaching rugby, watching his three kids play sport and gardening with his wife Haidee.

“I love the challenge of empowering people in our primary sectors and the excitement of seeing clients achieving their aspirations.  If we can encourage farmers to engage with their consumers, take a more active involvement in their supply chains and view their businesses through a wider lens, then I think our industries have a great future.”