Farmer did 'incredible job' transforming dry land

A view looking down on Doug McIntyre's irrigation and dairy development between Omarama and Twizel. Photo by Sally Rae.
A view looking down on Doug McIntyre's irrigation and dairy development between Omarama and Twizel. Photo by Sally Rae.
Barry Shepherd remembers the days when he used to shoot rabbits on a property which is now Doug McIntyre's dairy farm.

''Even the rabbits were skinny out here and they had their lunch bags with them,'' he quipped.

It was a credit to Mr McIntyre, a pioneering dairy farmer in the region,as to what he had achieved, he said.

Similarly, Mr McIntyre's neighbour, Simon Williamson, of Glenbrook Station, said he had shown foresight in buying the property and, with water, had done an ''incredible job''.

Originally part of Benmore Station, which was split up in 1916, the land now owned by Mr McIntyre became part of Glenbrook Station.

About 15 years ago, Mr McIntyre, who operated dairy farms near Waimate, ventured into the upper Waitaki.

He bought the 2500ha property and has now been dairying in the area for about 11 or 12 years, milking 4000 cows through two cow sheds.

Mr Williamson recalled what the property was like before Mr McIntyre bought it.

There was no fence down the side of the main road - ''It must have been one of the last places on the State Highway that hadn't been fenced'' - the land was ''denuded'', hieracium had taken hold and rabbits were very bad.

Wilding trees had ''got away'' at the back of the property and he described them as ''thick as hairs on a cat's back''.

Mr McIntyre had cleared the trees, put in 1100ha of irrigation on the flats and recently added more irrigation out the back of the property, which had been run as dryland.

Asked what would have happened to that land without Mr McIntyre's development work, Mr Williamson said it would have turned into a wilding forest that would have eventually spread.

Mr McIntyre said production had steadily increased over the years and it got ''better and better'' each year.

When he took over the property, he wondered what he would ever do with the land out the back.

He started with a paddock of lucerne and the soil was quite a bit better than he thought. He now aimed to grow enough feed to winter the cows.

The feed that Mr McIntyre was growing was ''quite incredible'' particularly during what was one of the driest years there had been, Mr Williamson said.

Mr McIntyre said it had not always been easy ''with bankers and bureaucracy'' and they had learnt to survive during low payouts and when production levels were not high.

With the added irrigation out the back, he could be tempted to add another cow shed, but that would depend on environmental issues and consents, he said.

Mr McIntyre owns 65% of the shares in the Benmore Irrigation Co, sourcing water from a scheme that was first mooted in the mid-1970s.

The company was formed in the early 1990s by three farmers interested in irrigating the valley between the Ohau and Ahuriri Rivers, next to State Highway 8.

Consent was granted in 1999 but it took another six years of planning and obtaining funding before work started.

In 2005, when the scheme was ''just barely getting going'', it involved six farms, with gross turnover of $5 million and it supported seven families.

In 2012, there were eight farms, gross turnover was $26 million and the scheme supported 23 families, scheme manager Barry Shepherd, who is also chairman of the Upper Waitaki zone committee, said.

Soon, the company would be applying to double its irrigated area and Mr Shepherd was keen to see environmentally sensitive development get under way.

Those involved with the scheme would ideally like to work with some of the people who might object to the consent application ''before we get to the fighting stage'', he said.