Paying farmers not to pollute waterways could be more effective than fining them when they do, a Waikato University economist says.
Professor Les Oxley, of the Waikato Management School, is looking into an alternative approach to protecting water quality through incentives rather than penalties.
He said an example might be compensating farmers to improve water quality by taking land out of production.
"There's no issue here that I'm suggesting that polluters in some sense shouldn't pay," Prof Oxley said.
"The idea is to try and avoid that pollution getting into the environment, and I don't have a silver bullet on this one, but the idea is to try and find out what sort of incentives as opposed to threats might help in the rural environment generally."