Story: Farming and the environment

Farmland is now an ordinary part of the rural landscape, and has become a core aspect of New Zealand’s national identity. But the pastures of New Zealand’s countryside were created through massive human effort, with significant cost to the environment. Balancing agricultural land use with care of the environment is a growing challenge.

Story by Julia Haggerty and Hugh Campbell
Main image: Picturesque view of North Island sheep and cattle farming, early 20th century

Story summary

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Changing the landscape

Before humans came to New Zealand, it was covered in forests and tussock grassland. Māori and European settlers both changed the landscape by clearing forest and tussock, and planting crops. Swamps were drained to make more farmland, destroying some places where native birds and animals (such as eels and whitebait) lived.

Farming and the environment

Farming can harm the environment by:

  • damaging native plants and animal habitats
  • using up some of the nutrients in the soil
  • causing soil erosion
  • polluting rivers, streams and underground water with chemicals from fertilisers and waste from animals
  • using up water from rivers
  • making greenhouse gases.

Protecting the environment

To look after the environment, and to limit damage from activities such as farming, the government passed the Resource Management Act 1991. People now need to get approval to do things that might affect the environment. Many local councils also have their own rules to protect the environment. Dairy co-operative Fonterra has rules for farmers that aim to stop them from polluting waterways.

Organisations such as the Queen Elizabeth II Trust and the Landcare Trust support and encourage farmers to protect the environment. Farmers who grow crops organically (without using chemicals) believe this is better for the environment.

How to cite this page:

Julia Haggerty and Hugh Campbell, 'Farming and the environment', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 17 April 2024)

Story by Julia Haggerty and Hugh Campbell, published 24 November 2008