Interwoven irrigation issues discussed

Panellists prepare for the ‘‘Irrigation in 2025 — Developing a vision for the irrigation sector’’...
Panellists prepare for the ‘‘Irrigation in 2025 — Developing a vision for the irrigation sector’’ panel discussion. From left are panellists Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan; Pamu Farms environmental head Alison Dewes; and Con Williams, of ANZ; moderator Guyon Espiner; and panellists Professor Jacinta Ruru, of the University of Otago; Pioneer Energy chief executive Fraser Jonker; and Nuffield scholar and ‘‘next generation irrigator’’ Ryan O’Sullivan. Photo: Pam Jones
More than 400 people heard about Central Otago’s irrigation history and looked at the future of the national sector at the Irrigation New Zealand conference in Alexandra last week. Pam Jones looks at some of the main issues discussed.

Kyeburn Catchment Ltd (KCL) is close to securing a new global consent for its 15 users, having been through a mediation process following an appeal from Otago Fish and Game to a consent agreed by the Otago Regional Council (ORC).

KCL director Hamish McKenzie said he hoped the new 35-year consent would be issued soon.

Otago Rural Support Trust chairman, Maniototo farmer and former National party politician Gavan Herlihy said the ORC was not giving enough consideration to social and economic factors when considering catchment values.

Mr Herlihy said ORC reports were heavily focused on environmental factors, but the ORC did not have enough staff with the skills to analyse economic and social factors, which were just as important.

Resource management specialist Marian Weaver, of the ORC, said ORC reports looked at flow information and different scenarios from that. She said the ORC took a wider look "than just the economic impact on individual farms".

The conference considered the consequences of the Government’s changed irrigation policy, which meant no Crown Irrigation Investments (CII) funding would be available for new irrigation projects, which were vital for New Zealand and Central Otago’s economic success, Irrigation New Zealand chairman Andrew Curtis, Irrigation New Zealand chairwoman Nicky Hyslop, and Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan said.

The changes had caused a "major hurdle" for the proposed raising of the Falls Dam, in Central Otago, but the project would still proceed, Manuherikia Catchment Water Strategy Group chairman Allan Kane said.

But during a panel discussing "Irrigation in 2025 — Developing a vision for the irrigation sector", Pamu Farms environmental head Alison Dewes said New Zealand had reached the economic, social and environmental limits of extracting as much from our land as possible, and there was a need to "pull back" after the "fast and hard", mass land change of the past 25 years.

She asked people to consider a future with "fewer animals and more plants", and said the Government had "to be honest" about the land and water degradation that had occurred from intensive farming.

Mr Cadogan made it clear  urban pollution was also a problem. He had attended an event where Omakau farmer and Federated Farmers high country Central Otago chairman Andrew Paterson had held up two sets of water quality results: one for waterways leaving his farm, which were clear of any pollution, and one for waterways leaving Omakau, where there were significant problems with the town’s water treatment plant.

"People say it’s the cows causing the problems. It’s not the cows, it’s the impact of man in whatever shape or form that has caused the problems, whether they are dairy farmers or living in cities," he  said.

Some delegates called for more scientific research to back up environmental claims and assist farmers. But some  said there was already enough science, but sometimes a resistance from the primary sector to accept it.

Professor Jacinta Ruru, of the University of Otago, said she felt positive about the future, and there was more engagement with tangata whenua.

New Zealand’s biggest issue was to "clean up our waterways", she said.

But Mr Cadogan reminded irrigators not to "go into your bunkers", and to spread the good news of the positive things happening in irrigation and the primary sector.

International water management expert Dr Stuart Styles, from the Irrigation Training and Research Centre at Cal Poly State University, said irrigation systems and practices in New Zealand were at the "upper end of the performance spectrum".

Looking to 2025, Mr Curtis said food consumers were becoming more conscious of where food was sourced from, creating a need for sustainable production that was traceable back to the farm.

Automation would become increasingly used, and plant-based options would replace some traditional protein sources.

Water scarcity would become a more pressing issue globally. In New Zealand, although rainfall was relatively plentiful by world standards, it would demand that irrigators became more water efficient, and new technologies needed to continue to evolve to assist this, Mr Curtis said.

Mr Cadogan said the pendulum had previously swung too far towards the farmer, and now people were adapting to its swing back the other way.It was important to remember the economy was a "fully-owned subsidiary of the environment, not the other way around", he said.

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