Bob Engelbrecht (left) and Grant McFadden catch up at the
recent IrrigationNZ conference in Napier. Photo by
When Grant McFadden drives through rural North Otago, he
is amazed at what irrigation has done for the district.
The retired Maf policy manager was a key support for farmers
on the lower Waitaki plains as an irrigation scheme was
initiated in the 1970s.
His longtime involvement in irrigation was rewarded recently
with the Ron Cocks Memorial Award for outstanding leadership
He received the award jointly with Ashburton-based farm
business consultant and rural valuer Bob Engelbrecht at
IrrigationNZ's conference in Napier.
Together, the pair had more than a century of involvement in
advocating for agriculture and irrigation interests,
IrrigationNZ chairman John Donkers said.
Mr McFadden began his career as a farm adviser with Maf in
the mid-1960s and was based in Oamaru from 1974 to 1980.
From the early 1980s, he worked with farmers going through
deregulation and drought and later moved into MAF Policy, as
he realised it offered opportunities ''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.
He later managed many research contracts looking at the
sustainability and economics of irrigation. He was also
involved in the early days of the Canterbury Water Management
Strategy as an instigator of funding and steering group
Now living in Christchurch, he recalled the construction of
the Lower Waitaki scheme.
The percentage of farmers seeking to be involved with it well
exceeded the required level, which was no surprise, given the
concerns about drought. Severe droughts in the late 1960s had
devastated the area, he said.
It tended to be an older age group of farmers and, after
obtaining water, many sold out to younger ones.
It was a ''real win-win''. The older farmers realised good
sales for their properties, allowing them to move elsewhere
or retire, and a ''great invigoration of young, new blood''
came in, he said.
Mr McFadden said the changes in land use that followed were
Planning and preparation for the scheme was all based on
continued intensification of sheep and beef and cropping
operations, and the change happened very quickly.
Getting water on to the free-draining, stony soils was a
''huge breakthrough'' and a very capable group of farmers was
involved, led by Sid Hurst, coincidentally the inaugural
recipient of the Ron Cocks Memorial Award in 2008.
During and up to that time, there had been a push to get
water on to the North Otago downlands. Not much progress was
made then and it was ''amazing'' to see what happened after
the opening of the North Otago Irrigation Company's scheme in
Receiving the Ron Cocks award came ''out of the blue'' and he
was thrilled to receive it alongside Mr Engelbrecht.
The pair had worked closely together on ''all sorts of
things'' and shared very similar philosophies and
experiences. It was the first time the award had been given
to two individuals.