Too soon to talk about funding

North Otago irrigators say it is too early to know if they will be applying for funding from a new investment company due to be set up by the Government.

The Waitaki Irrigators Collective (WIC), whose shareholders include the 10,000ha North Otago Irrigation Company irrigation scheme in Waitaki, yesterday welcomed Wednesday's announcement by primary industries minister David Carter that $80 million would be invested in a Crown investment fund to set up a new company to help bridge funding gaps in regional irrigation schemes.

WIC chairman Fraser McKenzie said the investment was expected to ease investment worries for both new schemes and existing schemes that wanted to modernise.

''The financial sector traditionally does not `understand' irrigation development, and it can be difficult to attract external investment. The ability to obtain financial capital will become even more important as the cost of developing infrastructure continues to escalate.''

WIC shareholders accounted for a 75,000ha of irrigable land in both North Otago and South Canterbury, but Mr McKenzie said it was not known whether any of the collective's five irrigation schemes or its individual irrigators would seek co-funding from the Crown entity.

WIC policy manager Elizabeth Soal added that there would be strict criteria around the availability of funding, and the Crown investment fund should not be seen as a subsidy for farmers.

''The Crown is expecting a return on its investment, and will be a minority investor in these developments.

''Irrigation projects will have to demonstrate that the project will be self-sufficient in the long term, will deliver benefits to the community, and have robust environmental management processes in place.''

The new company would sit well beside the Irrigation Acceleration Fund, which provides co-funding for strategic water management studies and developing irrigation project to the investment-ready stage.

Both schemes would help ensure the value and importance of irrigation to regional communities was recognised, she said.

-andrew.ashton@odt.co.nz