Successes or failures riding on Lindis minimum flow decision

Jayne Rive, George Reed and Matilda Reed (3) at Cloudy Peak on an irrigated paddock compared to the non-irrigated hillside behind. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Jayne Rive, George Reed and Matilda Reed (3) at Cloudy Peak on an irrigated paddock compared to the non-irrigated hillside behind. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY

‘‘You don’t just get a free ride here at all.’’

Tarras farmer Jayne Rive sits at the kitchen table of the Cloudy Peak homestead in the Ardgour Valley, her piercing blue eyes ever-animated as she talks about the uncertainty involved with securing irrigation water for the family farming operation.

In late January, Environment Court Judge Jon Jackson adjourned the hearing of, and reserved the court’s decision on an appeal brought by the Lindis Catchment Group and the Otago Regional Council against an ORC decision which, among other things, imposed a minimum flow of 900 litres per second for the Lindis.

The LCG was proposing a 550 litres per second minimum flow, saying that level was crucial to enabling irrigators to have sufficient reliability of supply.

Ms Rive has been part of that group, which represents irrigators using Lindis River water. Going through the process has been ‘‘incredibly worrying, incredibly draining and incredibly frustrating’’.

She farms Cloudy Peak, a 2083ha property, with her partner, George Reed, and the couple’s young daughter, Matilda (3). Her parents live nearby.

Graeme and Anne Rive were raised in the district and, after farming in the Wakatipu and Marlborough, they wanted to return to Tarras and semi-retire.

That gave Ms Rive and Mr Reed the opportunity to farm in the district with the purchase of the property in 2012.

Tarras has traditionally been a merino wool-growing district, despite later diversification into viticulture and horticulture, and it was the perfect area for Ms Rive to farm, given her longstanding passion for merino sheep.

That passion has seen her focus on breeding a dual-purpose merino — with an emphasis on carcass as well as wool — working in tandem particularly with Gordon Lucas, from Nine Mile Station.

Merinos were the ideal stock class for the fragile hills of Cloudy Peak, as they were browsers rather than grazers, and were low-impact animals, she said.

Low rainfall and rabbits were the two biggest challenges; the north-facing property had been infamous in the past for its rabbit population.

Rabbit control was a significant ongoing cost they had to build into the farming operation, but numbers were under control, resulting in a greater abundance of feed, while irrigation played a key part in guaranteeing feed supply at critical times of the year.

It was a highly vulnerable property because it was so dry and north-facing and meant it was so sweet so that rabbits were ‘‘into it’’.

When they took over Cloudy Peak in the spring of 2012, there was a resource consent to take water from the Lindis River expiring in two months’ time. A condition of the permit required them to convert to spray irrigation.

At that time, the land was watered by wild flood via gravity from the Ardgour race. They upgraded to a 24ha centre-pivot and 16ha of K-line irrigation, while a further 48ha on top of the terrace was later added with K-line.

The Ardgour Valley was a lovely place to live and a great place to farm merinos, in what was a very hard climate. All Ms Rive wanted to do was to be ‘‘left alone’’ to do that.

That 80ha of irrigation allowed them to finish lambs, making the property both sustainable and economically viable. ‘‘It just doesn’t work without water. It’s completely made this place,’’ she said.

The worry was what would happen if they did not have access to the water that they needed — ‘‘that’s the really awful part’’.

Cloudy Peak was originally about 5000ha before 2000ha of the tops was lost to tenure review; they had to make the remainder work, and it still had to be sustainable.

It was frustrating to hear comments being made about ‘‘greedy farmers’’ in the Lindis; most of what farmers earned was going back into the community — ‘‘that’s what farms are all about’’.

The local school was populated with children from farming families while it was the farming community that predominantly also supported the likes of the church.

The water debate had come at a huge cost to affected farmers. That money she would have preferred to have seen being spent on building the farming business — such as the likes of fencing — rather than ‘‘fighting a fight’’.

She believed the LCG proposal was ‘‘a really good one’’ — ‘‘we’ve thought of everything, right down to the last little fish’’.

During the process, Ms Rive said she had learned more about the ecology and hydrology for the Lindis River than she ever thought possible.

She would always be a merino farmer — ‘‘that’s our passion’’ — and her big vision was to run a ‘‘beautiful, sustainable property’’.

Meanwhile, aside from worrying about water and daily farming tasks, Ms Rive was still working on the dual-purpose merino.

Nine Mile had a ‘‘fantastic’’ ram sale this year, which was an all-time high. Rams averaged $2620 with a top price of $7600.

She described Mr Lucas as her inspiration and farming mentor, saying what they had done together had been a great partnership.

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