Irrigation worth $70m a year, report says

Elizabeth Soal
Elizabeth Soal
An estimated $77 million a year has been pumped into the North Otago economy from irrigation schemes in the Kurow-Duntroon area, $70 million more than if the area had stayed dry.

A report commissioned by the Waitaki Irrigators' Collective Ltd (WIC) said the schemes - both owned privately and by two companies - had created 150 jobs in the immediate area and another 360 jobs in the Waitaki region.

These are two findings in an economic benefit study commissioned by the WIC and released yesterday, part of investigations into the future of irrigation in Kurow-Duntroon area and to prepare options for farmers to consider.

The study covered 8000ha of irrigated land from the the Maerewhenua District Water Resources Company and Kurow-Duntroon Irrigation Company (formerly the Upper Waitaki company), as well as private, independent schemes.

WIC policy manager Elizabeth Soal said the study was also prompted by changes in technology, new demands for water and pressure to increase efficiency of use.

Already, some change had occurred. The Maerewhenua scheme had expanded its command area from 800ha to more than 2000ha, and was also returning some of the water being used now to the Maerewhenua River.

''That is the sort of options that have been explored.''

Reports had gone out to farmers in the irrigation area. It was hoped decisions could be made in the next six months.

''We are not saying exactly what will happen [in the reports], but what we want to do is provide a range of options. We have reached a turning point and we need to make decisions now that will be as robust in the future as they were in the 1970s,'' Ms Soal said.

The report found irrigation in the Kurow and Duntroon area directly contributed $77 million of revenue to the local economy annually, compared to about $7 million without irrigation. That led to flow-on benefits of $106 million of revenue annually for the district and $327 million of revenue for New Zealand a year, compared with $14 million and $30 million respectively, if there was no irrigation.

There were 180 full-time positions in the study area, but there would only be 30 without irrigation.

Irrigation in that area had created 360 additional jobs at the district level, and 1150 at the national level.

The social impacts of irrigation included stable primary school rolls in the study area compared with declining rolls in the Waitaki district, a higher proportion of the population in full-time employment, and a significant increase in building consent activity over the past 10 years, all of which indicate economic activity was on the increase.

Work and Income's southern regional labour market manager Emma Hamilton said recently there had been ''a definite increase'' in the number of employment opportunities for job-seekers in the farming industry in the area.

Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean said the figures confirmed irrigation's social and economic benefits should not be underestimated.

''Our region is certainly better off thanks to irrigation,'' she said.

Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher said the study backed up what was happening around North Otago.

''There is a lot of increased economic activity and employment resulting from the development of irrigation. The ripples are being felt around our community as we see our district's GDP increase by almost twice the level of the rest of the country and businesses being kept busy across a number of sectors.

''It is all very exciting and the possibility of expanding irrigation in North Otago is an opportunity we want to see happen,'' he said.

Data was collected through property owner surveys, along with contributing data from Land Information New Zealand, the Ministry of Primary Industries, Statistics New Zealand, and shareholder registers for each irrigation scheme.

The study was done by Rationale Ltd, part-funded by the Ministry for Primary Industries' Irrigation Acceleration Fund and the rest by the irrigators.

- david.bruce@odt.co.nz

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