Southland Regional Council chair Ali Timms hopes the Government will take on board the message she delivered this week.
Ms Timms met Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy to warn about the economic and environmental fall-out that would occur if the meat industry continues to decline.
She said Southland and other regions are already seeing the decline in fresh water quality and increased nitrogen levels that are occuring as dairy farming and dairy support operations force less intensive sheep farming onto more marginal land.
"We had a really good discussion and we reached a common understanding abou the importance of rhe red meat sector to New Zealand, both environmentally and economically and the minister agreed that there are clear links between the Government's export led growth strategy and the national policy statement for fresh water.
"He said that sheepmeat returns will lift, two to three percent in the next season. I'd like to see that happen, but it can't just be the next season.
''It needs to be sustainable and consistent, because at the moment with the variability with returns, we are seeing a number of farmers, in order perhapsto hang onto the family farm and be economically sustainable, continuing to convert to dairy farming or to 100-percent dairy grazing in Southland."
Ms Timms wants the Government to pick up on the points she's been making, that unless the meat industry has some sustainable returns to farming, the Government's growth agenda and national water policy statement will be much harder to achieve."
"If we've got the minister putting that point of view to the industry, I think that's a different perspective again and also broadening the discussion out to the wider farming community about that."
Mr Guy said the Government's fresh water reforms are profound and will make it easier for regional councils to manage water quality.
And he said that if the meat industry comes to him with a coherent restructuring plan, he will listen.