Irrigation extending potato, onion output

Easier access to water in Canterbury is not only fuelling dairying production but also a significant growth in the production of potatoes and onions.

The 2012 agricultural production census, conducted by the Department of Statistics, shows the Canterbury potato harvest accounted for half the national harvested area in June 2012.

And, the land put into onions increased from 690ha in June 2007 to 1040ha in June 2012 - about a 50% increase.

Producers say this growth can be attributed to the increase in the amount of irrigable land in Canterbury.

The same census reported the total amount of land which could be irrigated in Canterbury grew by 60,000ha in the same period and accounted for 58% of the total national growth.

Onions New Zealand executive secretary Matthew Spence said the increase was a direct reflection of the increase in irrigable land.

''Onions are grown 100% under irrigation in Canterbury.''

''Guaranteed rainfall'' was crucial when onions started to bulb to ensure a good size, he said.

Because more of Canterbury was under irrigation, mixed arable farmers were choosing to add onions to their crop rotations which was contributing to the area harvested, Mr Spence said.

Potatoes New Zealand chief executive Champak Mehta said the reliability irrigation offered was one of several factors driving the increase in the area planted in potatoes in Canterbury.

''Potatoes are a crop which needs more water and the increase in the availability of water has been one driver behind the increase in production.''

However, the main driver was an increase in demand from the processing sector looking to fill the Australian requirement for processed potato products, particularly French fries.

As well, since 2008, many North Island processors had contracted an increasing proportion of their production to the Canterbury region because of the spread in the North Island of the potato psyllid.

The damage the potato psyllid caused impacted more heavily on the processing sector than the fresh potato sector, Mr Mehta said.

The success of local operations, like Heartland Chips, would also have made some contribution to the expansion of the harvestable area of potatoes in the region, he said.

The area of potatoes harvested nationally increased by 1530ha (15%) between 2007 and 2012, with 11,580ha harvested in 2012.

Specifically, the numbers of hectares planted in potatoes in Canterbury has increased by about 33% in that time, from 4273ha to 5518ha, Mr Mehta said.

The agricultural production census collects statistical information about national and regional land use, livestock, forestry, arable and horticulture crops, and farm practices.

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