Winners share century of experience

Farm business consultant and rural valuer Bob Engelbrecht (left), of Ashburton, and retired Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry policy manager Grant McFadden, of Christchurch, are joint recipients of Irrigation New Zealand's Ron Cocks Memorial Award. Photo by Irrigation NZ
Farm business consultant and rural valuer Bob Engelbrecht (left), of Ashburton, and retired Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry policy manager Grant McFadden, of Christchurch, are joint recipients of Irrigation New Zealand's Ron Cocks Memorial Award. Photo by Irrigation NZ

When Bob Engelbrecht attended irrigation meetings years ago in Ashburton, the late Ron Cocks would often end up at his home afterwards to continue the discussion.

Little did Mr Engelbrecht imagine he would one day win an award named after Mr Cocks, a Mid Canterbury farmer, for his contribution to irrigation in New Zealand.

For the first time, IrrigationNZ has awarded its Ron Cocks Memorial Award to two people. Retired Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry policy manager Grant McFadden joins Mr Engelbrecht, a farm business consultant and rural valuer, as recipients of the award.

Between them, the two men have more than a century of involvement in advocating for agriculture and irrigation interests.

Mr Engelbrecht credits the last winner of the award, fellow Ashburtonian Brian Cameron, with introducing him to the potential of irrigation.

''In 1968 he was putting a bore down at his place and I went to have a look. In the second year he found water and that was the first deep well in Mid Canterbury.''

From that beginning, overhead spray irrigation from groundwater developed.

A founding member of the New Zealand Irrigation Association in 1978, Mr Engelbrecht remembers 400 people turning up that year for a three-day conference.

Conferences were held every two years until 1988, when the association was forced into recess by the effect of Rogernomics.

''Irrigation stopped in its tracks.''

He helped reinstate the association in September 2001 and it was rebranded as Irrigation New Zealand in 2004.

Over the years, Mr Engelbrecht has served as secretary, chairman, treasurer and newsletter editor.

Mr Engelbrecht has been a pre-eminent farm business consultant for nearly five decades and has won awards including a Lincoln University Medal and fellowships from the New Zealand Institute of Primary Industry Management and the New Zealand Property Institute.

Now semi-retired and working from home, Mr Engelbrecht is becoming more involved with community groups and has taken over the vegetable garden after about 40 years.

Grant McFadden began his career as a farm adviser with Maf in the mid-1960s and was a key support for farmers in the Lower Waitaki as they initiated their irrigation scheme in the 1970s.

From the early '80s, he worked with farmers going through deregulation and drought and later moved into MAF Policy ''as I realised there were opportunities in the policy area to make a real difference to people.''

In 1988, he was handed responsibility for running the country's 38 irrigation schemes and preparing them for sale to farmers when the Ministry of Works was closed. Later, he managed many research contracts looking at the sustainability and economics of irrigation.

McFadden was also involved in the early days of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy as an instigator of funding through Maf and a steering group member.

- by Maureen Bishop