Good farming practice

Leading farmers and land managers employ good farming practice to improve production, performance and sustainable land use.

The advice and guidelines here have been developed by primary sector organisations and the Taranaki Regional Council encourages their use.

What, why and how

What is good farming practice?

The term 'good farming practice' – sometimes referred to as 'good management practices' – describes relatively simple, easy-to-adopt measures based on sound production methods, and can be used to improve performance while reducing the impact of your activities on the environment (notably nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment, and faecal contaminant impacts on water quality).

This can involve technology (such as precision agriculture), a change to a farming system, or simply adapting the way existing farm management practices are carried out.

Good farming practice also evolves with changes in science and technology and increased understanding of the environment; what was good practice 10 years ago may now be out of date.

Good farming practice can help you in developing your Farm Environment Plan. One of the main reasons for preparing and implementing a farm plan is to recognise where good management practices are currently in place on farm, and identifying where you could adopt extra ones to reduce the risks of soil and nutrient loss on water quality from your farming operation.

See more about Farm Environment Plans

National Good Farming Practice Principles

This list of principles has been developed with farmer-driven involvement from DairyNZ, Deer Industry New Zealand, NZ Pork, Beef+LambNZ, Horticulture NZ and the Foundation for Arable Research, with funding also provided by central government and a number of regional councils. While first applied in Canterbury, they were developed to apply across all regions. Each region is adapting these principles to meet their own priorities, based on the most pressing water and soil quality issues in the region/catchments and the causes, the range of solutions and likely impacts of practice change.

The list of principles is set out in this downloadable booklet:

Industry-agreed good management practices relating to water quaility(external link)

Why adopt good farming practice?

Improved profitablity Fewer compliance visits Right for family/whanau Consumer expectations
Reduced costs   Pride  
More efficiences   Professionalism  
    Environmental gains  

Farm-specific good practice

Many primary sector organisations have invested time and money developing sector-specific guidance on industry agreed good management practices. Follow the relevant link/s to find out more (also refer to notes below):

Beef + Lamb NZ(external link) | DairyNZ(external link) | Deer Industry NZ(external link) | Horticulture NZ(external link) | Irrigation NZ(external link) | Pork NZ(external link)

Note: See Appendix 1 of the Beef + Lamb NZ document

This page sets out industry-agreed good farm practice in various categories. When you understand the good practices relevant to your situation, the next step is to prepare a farm environment plan.

General principles / whole farm

Intent: Ensure that significant environmental risks to water quality have been assessed, addressed and documented to demonstrate adherence to GMP 1.

GMP 1: Identify the physical and biophysical characteristics of the farm system, assess the risk factors to water quality associated with the farm system, and manage appropriately.

Implementation guidance


  • Biophysical characteristics of your property such as soil types, topography, and climate.
  • Physical characteristics such as waterways, artificial drainage networks, irrigation.
  • Risk factors such as soil loss, nutrient loss, and damage to soil structure.
  • Management or practices that are required by third parties (e.g. Council and/or industry requirements) to be recorded e.g. location of offal pits, feed storage, effluent storage and application area and irrigation area.
  • Outdoor pigs: Farm in low rainfall area and on flat land to minimise runoff.

GMP 2: Maintain accurate and auditable records of annual farm inputs, outputs and management practices.

Implementation guidance

Maintain accurate and auditable records that:

  • set out objectives to be met;
  • identify all relevant farming activities and practices, including those that demonstrate that relevant GMPs are being applied;
  • demonstrate the assessment of all risks to water quality;
  • identify how and when actions to mitigate risks will be undertaken;
  • allow the generation of an annual actual OVERSEER® nutrient budget.

Utilise industry specific planning tools and templates – or farm environment plans – for recording key information – such as water use, fertiliser inputs, and spray diaries, planting dates, paddock rotation, feed inputs and composition, stock numbers and production outputs or yield.

Review the planned actions annually (e.g. carry out a self-audit).

  • Farm environment plans may be used to assist with this GMP. Farm environment plans include industry specific planning tools such as NZ Pork Farm Environment Plans, Sustainable Milk Plans, NZ GAP or Global GAP, Land and Environment Plans, ProductionWise.
  • Mixed systems may need to combine or adapt existing farm environment plans.

GMP 3: Manage farming operations to minimise direct and indirect losses of sediment and nutrients to water, and maintain or enhance soil structure, where agronomically appropriate.

Implementation guidance


  • Distance from surface waterways, effectiveness of buffers
  • Slope of land (degree and length) in relation to waterway
  • Soil type and texture, quality (e.g. pugging, or compaction susceptibility)
  • Climatic and weather conditions to determine timing of cultivation
  • Cultivation methods (pre-, during, and post-cultivation; contour, no- or low-tillage)
  • Measures to prevent sediment and nutrients entering waterways (e.g. sediment traps or interception drains, headlands or diversion bunds, grazing techniques)
  • Measures to prevent soil loss through erosion, overland flow and wind blow (e.g. space planted trees, windbreaks, cover crops)
  • Measures to prevent or remedy soil damage
  • Previous use of land, and future use of land
  • Using sub-soiling or ripping to remedy compaction of soils.

Leave grassed areas around rocks, gullies and riparian margins. If spraying out pasture, first identify areas that won’t be worked or re-sown e.g. gullies, runners, riparian margins and rocky areas.

In heavy soils, cultivate soil when conditions are dry enough to reduce compaction and pugging and improve drainage and soil structure.


Intent: Balancing the application of nutrients to match plant requirements and minimise risk of losses.

GMP 4: Monitor soil phosphorus levels and maintain them at or below the agronomic optimum for the farm system.

Implementation guidance
  • To determine the level of phosphorus fertiliser needed, conduct regular, on-going soil testing (Olsen P or an equivalent, recognised soil test) at the block scale to monitor trends, patterns and the impacts of nutrient management decisions.
  • Leave an unfertilised strip as a buffer zone beside creeks, drains and storm water flood zones. Allow more distance as slopes become steeper.

GMP 5: Manage the amount and timing of fertiliser inputs, taking account of all sources of nutrients, to match plant requirements and minimise risk of losses.

Implementation guidance
  • Manage nutrients supplied from all sources including the soil, brought in feed, previous grazing and crops and any organic sources applied.
  • Regularly soil test to identify nutrient needs, particularly paddocks that are going into crop.
  • Expert guidelines, for example using crop calculators, expert agronomic advice or codes of practice should be used where appropriate.
  • Nitrogen and phosphorus fertiliser is applied strategically to meet agronomic requirements, and to avoid adverse environmental impacts (e.g. strategic use around Critical Source Areas). Detailed guidelines are provided in the Fertiliser Association of New Zealand’s Code of Practice for Nutrient Management(external link) (with emphasis on fertiliser use).
  • Nutrient budgets as a tool to manage nutrient loss can be helpful.
  • Practices such as use of side dressings and split applications may be helpful to reduce the risk of leaching and ensure greater utilisation of nutrients by plants.
  • Dairy: All farmers have and use a predictive nutrient budget (OVERSEER®) as the basis for managing nutrients on their farm (milking platform, and any support land). Predictive nutrient budgets and nutrient management plans are developed by Certified Nutrient Management Advisors, and updated when the farm system changes. The OVERSEER® data input standards are used to create OVERSEER® nutrient budgets.
  • The Dairy Industry’s Audited Nitrogen Management System contains recording and reporting requirements for N fertiliser on dairy farms (including milking platform, and any contiguous support land).
  • Outdoor pigs: No NPK fertilisers are to be applied to the outdoor pig unit.

GMP 6: Store and load fertiliser to minimise risk of spillage, leaching and loss into waterbodies.

Implementation guidance
  • Follow fertiliser industry code of practice for fertiliser handling, storage and use.
  • Locate storage sites away from waterways.

GMP 7: Ensure equipment for spreading fertilisers is well maintained and calibrated.

Implementation guidance
  • Any contractors used for fertiliser spreading should be accredited. The current industry standard is Spreadmark.
  • Ensure your spreading equipment is calibrated according to its design specifications specific to the product being spread.
  • Information on fertiliser applications is kept (or sought from contractors), including product, rate, date, location.

GMP 8: Store, transport and distribute feed to minimise wastage, leachate and soil damage.

Implementation guidance
  • Design feed storage facilities to minimise wastage and soil damage, i.e. sealed or compacted surface.
  • Minimise leachate generation (e.g. make silage at optimum moisture content) and prevent leachate from entering surface waterbodies, groundwater or stockwater.
  • Site silage stacks so that overland flow of water from heavy rain cannot enter the stack.
  • Site feed areas away from waterways.
  • Distribute feed so as to minimise soil damage (from farm equipment and animals) and potential surface run-off to waterways, i.e. avoid Critical Source Areas.
  • Deer: Make sure silage is made at the optimum moisture content to reduce possible leaching, recommended at 30% dry matter or more.
  • Outdoor pigs: Feed diets and feed levels appropriate for the physiologic state of the animal i.e. separate gestating and lactating sow diet.

GMP 9: Identify risk of overland flow of sediment and faecal bacteria on the property and implement measures to minimise transport of these to waterbodies.

Implementation guidance
  • Identify, record and manage risk to and from critical source areas such as wallows, bank erosion, pugging, trampling or slips on steep hillsides to minimise or eliminate sediment entering waterways.
  • Where appropriate use methods to minimise or eliminate sediment entering waterways such as:
    • vegetated buffer strips/riparian planting adjusted in width for slope, hydrology, bank stability, land use and proximity to critical source areas;
    • sediment traps;
    • paddock contouring;
    • earth bunds;
    • raised headlands.
  • Deer fence-pacing considerations:
    • Maintain appropriate feeding levels to reduce stress and fence-pacing.
    • Identify the best stock class to fit the soil types to minimise the risk of soil erosion, as identified in the Deer Farmers Landcare Manual.
    • Maintain pasture length in winter or wet periods, to prevent soil being washed off in heavy rain. In particularly vulnerable areas retain tussock cover or native vegetation to regulate water runoff and to reduce risk of soil loss particularly in gullies or along riparian margins.
    • If fence-pacing is bad, fill in area and re-sow or plant with trees and if damage is extreme, re-fence to remove the problem area. If fence-pacing continues, review fence placement as this can be a contributing factor.

GMP 10: Locate and manage farm tracks, gateways, water troughs, self-feeding areas, stock camps, wallows and other sources of run-off to minimise risks to water quality.

Implementation guidance
  • Locate and design laneways so that run-off is filtered by a vegetated strip. Design and manage laneways to minimise water ponding, excessive effluent build-up and erosion.
  • In areas exposed to wind erosion, establish shelter belts with trees that will filter the wind and provide added shade and shelter.
  • On tracks, allow for cut-offs and slumps that will take the run off away from streams.
  • Deer wallowing considerations:
    • Identify natural springs and wallows prior to cultivating paddocks and pipe or drain into retired areas;
    • Provide a suitable area away from waterways for safe wallowing.

GMP 11: Exclude stock from water bodies to the extent that is compatible with land form, stock class and stock intensity. Where exclusion is not possible, mitigate impacts on waterways.

Implementation guidance
  • Plan and prioritise waterway areas (including wetlands) to fence, based on the vulnerability of the land, significance of the waterway and potential to impact on water quality off-farm.
  • Exclusion of extensively farmed stock from waterways in hill and high country areas may not be practical but rather a mix of mitigations and practices can be used to minimise sediment and faecal bacteria losses from farms.
  • Actively manage stock, stock density and stock classes adjacent to waterways to reduce risks to water where fencing is not practical.
  • Exclude stock from significant waterways, drains and significant wetlands.
  • Locate and manage crossing of waterways so it will not result in degradation of those waterways.
  • Provide alternative stock-water sources away from waterways where possible.
  • Provide shade and shelter away from waterways where appropriate.
  • Place salt blocks and supplementary feed away from riparian margins.
  • Leave an appropriate buffer depending on slope, to filter runoff, even if only temporarily during vulnerable periods.
  • During high risk periods for erosion, e.g. winter grazing, fawn weaning, actively manage stock to prevent slumping, pugging or erosion.
Land and soil

Intent: To minimise direct and indirect losses of sediment and nutrients to water without being prescriptive about cultivation or soil management techniques used, as there are many agronomic considerations to take into account on a paddock-by-paddock and season-by-season basis.

GMP 12: Manage periods of exposed soil between crops/pasture to reduce risk of erosion, overland flow and leaching.

Implementation guidance
  • Consider soil conditions and crop rotation.
  • Areas that are harvested, grazed or stock damaged (resulting in bare soil) are re-sown as soon as practical to minimise periods of exposed soil.
  • Rest and re-sow erosion damaged areas.
  • Use cover crops (green feed, oats, mustard, other biological activates) to reduce losses and nutrient use; this also increases organic matter.
  • When developing paddocks, retain native vegetation such as tussock and shrub habitat in gullies, steep and higher country as this will regulate run off of water, help retain water quality, reduce soil movement and provide filter areas prior to water entering streams (a significant co-benefit is that it also provides cover for new-born stock).
  • Outdoor pigs: Maintain groundcover in accordance with the following:
    • For dedicated outdoor units or those in a pastoral rotation the minimum ground cover is:
      • For dry sows: at least 40% cover on 75% of the land (less than 40% cover permissible on 25% of the land);
      • Each paddock to have on average more than 10% cover;
      • For lactating sows: at least 70% cover.
    • For outdoor units as part of an arable operation the minimum ground cover is:
      • For dry sows: 25% cover (100-0% over 2 years);
      • For lactating sows: at least 70%;
      • Reduce fallow during and immediately after the pig phase of the rotation e.g. by planting a catch crop.

GMP 13: Manage or retire erosion prone land to minimise soil losses through appropriate measures and practices. Implementing this principle may mean that Class 8 land is not actively farmed for arable, pastoral or commercial forestry uses as this land is generally unsuitable for these activities as described in the Land Use Capability Handbook.

GMP 14: Select appropriate paddocks for intensive grazing, recognising and mitigating possible nutrient and sediment loss from critical source areas.

Implementation guidance
  • Where possible, select paddocks for winter grazing that are not vulnerable to pugging and compaction, do not have significant artificial drainage such as mole and tile drains, waterways, temporary streams or natural drainage channels (running in times of high rain). Choose wintering paddocks away from waterways if possible.

GMP 15: Manage grazing to minimise losses from critical source areas.

Implementation guidance
  • Sow crops for grazing across slopes if possible rather than up and down hills, to reduce runoff.
  • Graze lower lying areas and areas closest to waterways last.
  • Deer: Where possible, shift deer to dry, sheltered areas before wet weather arrives.
  • Deer: Monitor animals regularly on self-feed silage pits to make sure all animals retain the required body condition score.

Intent: Minimise risk of contamination of waterbodies from stored and applied effluent.

GMP 16: Ensure the effluent system meets industry-specific Code of Practice or equivalent standard.

Implementation guidance
  • Dairy: All new effluent systems are designed to Farm Dairy Effluent (FDE) Design Code of Practice. The main objectives of the system are: to capture all FDE; to spread the FDE at a time that allows uptake by plants; to uniformly spread the FDE to the desired depth, and at the desired intensity; to control FDE application to within the boundaries of the application area; to ensure that FDE systems can be operated safely; and to comply with all regulatory requirements, including consent conditions.

GMP 17: Have sufficient, suitable storage available to enable farm effluent and wastewater to be stored when soil conditions are unsuitable for application.

Implementation guidance
  • Dairy: Suitable storage is calculated using the Dairy Effluent Storage Calculator. This enables FDE to be stored when soil and management conditions are unsuitable for FDE land application. All areas that FDE is collected from are sealed (this includes feed pads). All new effluent systems are designed to FDE Design Code of Practice standard. Storage facilities are sealed and maintained to ensure containment of effluent. Storage is actively managed to ensure storage is available when required.
  • Deer: Enclosure systems should be located and managed to minimise environmental impact of effluent. In particular:
    • Store effluent for later dispersal to land where appropriate;
    • Effluent and run-off water should not enter natural waterways untreated;
    • Solid waste should be kept away from waterways;
    • Faecal/urine surface material should be cleared annually;
    • Paddock enclosure systems should not result in significant or irreparable soil loss or erosion.

GMP 18: Ensure equipment for spreading effluent and other organic manures is well maintained and calibrated.

Implementation guidance
  • Dairy: Spreading equipment is calibrated according to its design specifications specific to the product being spread. The effluent system can apply effluent efficiently. Information on effluent applications is kept (or sought from contractors), including product, rate, date, location. The effluent system is self-evaluated annually to demonstrate optimal performance, e.g. through an application efficiency test (bucket test); see DairyNZ FDE Guide to managing FDE and Guides to operating effluent irrigation system.

GMP 19: Apply effluent to pasture and crops at depths, rates and times to match plant requirements and minimise risk to waterbodies.

Implementation guidance
  • Dairy: FDE is applied to pasture and crops at depth, rates and times to best prevent loss and to increase utilisation; area complies with consent (use OVERSEER® to calculate). Take account of nutrients supplied by effluent or manure when calculating fertiliser requirements, e.g. use the DairyNZ FDE calculator app to determine the amount of nutrients applied. See FDE Design Code of Practice.
  • Outdoor pigs: No effluent to be spread on the outdoor unit.
Irrigation and water use

Intent: To apply irrigation water efficiently to meet plant demands and minimise risk of leaching and runoff.

 GMP 20: Manage the amount and timing of irrigation inputs to meet plant demands and minimise risk of leaching and runoff.

Implementation guidance

There is a demonstrable reason why irrigation is to be applied, for example:

  • To replace soil moisture deficit.
  • For the purpose of herbicide activation.
  • To prepare soil for cultivation.
  • Frost protection.
  • For fertigation.

 GMP 21: Design, check and operate irrigation systems to minimise the amount of water needed to meet production objectives.

Implementation guidance
  • Any new development, upgrade or redevelopment is consistent with irrigation industry codes of practice.
  • The irrigation system is evaluated annually to demonstrate optimal performance using irrigation industry guidance.
  • Dairy: Actual irrigation water take is measured with a water meter. Soil moisture levels are tracked throughout the season to justify irrigation events, e.g. using soil moisture balance calculations or soil moisture probes or tapes.
  • Dairy: Actual annual irrigation use is evaluated for consistency with estimated agronomic needs for the season based on climatic data and pasture/crop requirements.
  • Dairy: Dairy sheds will use no more water for dairy shed washdown and milk cooling than is necessary to produce hygienic and safe milk (Sustainable Dairying: Water Accord). Actual water use in the dairy shed is measured with a water meter.
  • Horticulture and Arable: Water is applied to maintain soil between stress point and field capacity - knowledge of evapotranspiration, field capacity and use of soil probes can assist in achieving this.
  • Horticulture and Arable: Volumes applied are informed by all relevant factors e.g. crop type, plant growth stage, soil type and field capacity.

Utilise industry-specific planning tools and templates – or farm environment plans – for recording key information – such as water use, fertiliser inputs, and spray diaries, planting dates, paddock rotation, feed inputs and composition, stock numbers and production outputs or yield.