Irrigation moratorium irks farmers

Dairy farmers have hit out at the decision to cut their irrigation takes.

Environment Southland (ES) cut all irrigation takes on Thursday due to low river flows and depleted aquifers throughout the region.

A medium-scale adverse drought event was declared on Thursday in Southland, Clutha and Queenstown Lakes as ground dries up and rainfall levels hit record lows.

Farmers, though, are upset about the decision by ES to cut water takes for at least two weeks.

Southland Federated Farmers sharemilker chairman Jason Herrick said ES was just kicking the problem down the road.

"It was a real kneejerk reaction. There was absolutely no consultation on it. They didn’t reach out to any other organisation at all, they just made the decision on their own,’’ Mr Herrick said.

"I have heard other people have already used their winter feed and are now starting on their spring feed, so for the winter they’re going to have to source feed from somewhere else.

"Our aquifer that we irrigate out of is a confined aquifer and it has a water users group on it between three farms.

"We manage the whole aquifer and out of all aquifers in Southland that one stands out as not critically low — it’s actually still quite reasonable and is in no way connected to the river.

"So I don’t understand why they would cut us off when all it’s going to do is create another bigger feed shortage because we’re starting to pull from an already short pool of feed around if we can’t grow the grass.’’

He said it had already been a hard season due to changing weather and staff shortages.

Southland farmer Rob Dingle said the decision by ES was over the top.

"It’s a huge disappointment that they’ve chosen to take this course without any consultation from water users at all,’’ he said.

"There’s been no negotiation, no heads-up. There’s been no engagement at all.

"There’s a clause in the RMA Act that allows them to do this. They’ve gone over the top of the existing measures that already have low flow cutoffs.’’

Another farmer, Mark Hamill, of Gorge Rd, said one positive was it was not supposed to get cold any time soon.

A sudden cold snap right now would be the worst thing that could happen to the region’s farmers.

Niwa forecasting principal scientist Chris Brandolino said temperatures were very likely to be above average in Southland, inland Otago and the West Coast.

Mr Hamill said the forecast was the lesser of two evils.

"If we’ve got above normal temperatures, it doesn’t take too much rain to get things hopping along,’’ he said.

"If we got 50mm in a week, I think that would turn us around and I think the ground would still be warm enough that we could still grow a bit of grass.’’

His farm’s autumn silage had all been fed out now, and he was in a situation where he was trying to get rid of some of his cows, but was unable to because meat works were not able to keep up with processing demands.

"It’s forgotten how to rain down here at the moment.’’

The outlook for coastal Otago was better.

Temperatures were about equally likely to be above average or near average; and rainfall totals, soil moisture levels and river flows are most likely to be near normal.

Environment Southland said yesterday the irrigation cuts would not apply on takes from the Mataura River above the State Highway 1 bridge in Gore.

By John Lewis and Ben Tomsett

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