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Drought Highlights Urgent Need For Water Storage

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Drought Highlights Urgent Need For Water Storage

Reliable irrigation is the way forward to ensure sustainable and resilient communities says Irrigation NZ as it highlights the urgent need for nationwide water storage.

Agriculture Minister David Carter foreshadowed a major water package as part of the government's response to climate change when he spoke after meeting Northland's drought-affected farmers. While he acknowledged he was working with ministerial colleagues on the initiative to go to Cabinet, he did not disclose any detail. Government has declared all areas north of the Auckland harbour bridge a medium level drought zone, triggering some relief measures. Waikato is close on Northland's heels.

While government has financially assisted the planning stages of community water storage projects, through the Community Irrigation Fund, none have yet proceeded to implementation stage. And that time can't come quick enough, says IrrigationNZ chief executive Andrew Curtis.

"Reliable Irrigation is the way forward to minimise boom bust scenarios and create wealth and opportunity for communities alongside resilience."

Farmers get a risk management tool and it also enables them to undertake better environmental management, Curtis said.

Good Management Practice (GMP) irrigation keeps grass and crops growing optimally absorbing the applied nutrients. This enables farmers to proactively manage losses from the system, as opposed to a dry land scenario where there is no control over soil moisture and consequent plant growth, leaving outcomes unequivocally in the hands of the rain gods! Across the country it's shaping up to be a long summer and there is every likelihood other areas will soon find themselves in the same situation as Northland. Whole communities can benefit from reliable irrigation and this has been proven in South Canterbury where the benefits of irrigation boosted the wider community by over $40 million per annum and 480 Full Time Employee's (FTE's). This 2005 study showed on-farm gross farm revenues increased almost three-fold from $900/ha to $2,100/ha resulting in an increased cash farm surplus of $210/ha to $570/ha on the additional 16,000ha irrigated through the Opuha Dam project. More recently these figures have been backed up by the 2010 North Otago Irrigation Company (NOIC) study which recorded almost identical benefits. Gross farm revenue (most of which flow to the local economy) increased more than three-fold from $21m to $65m, and the cash farm surplus from $7m to $22m on the 10,000ha irrigated. "Both the Opuha and the NOIC have proven that alongside private gain there is three times that by the community at large. Reliable irrigation creates an economic win for everyone"

In terms of production, reliable irrigation demonstrates clear benefits. Due to the declared drought in Northland and the looming drought declaration in Waikato, these two regions, without reliable water supply, are falling well behind the central South Island in terms of production. For example, milk production in the upper North Island, including Northland, has this month (December 11 figures) dropped 8% on a daily basis compared to last season. Waikato has fallen 10.5% while the central South Island (Canterbury and North Otago) has increased 5.5%.

Dairy NZ figures, obtained by IrrigationNZ, record Waikato milk solids/cow herds ranging between 0.9 -1.4MS /cow/ day with an average of 4kg dry matter/cow/day of supplement being fed in addition to pasture. Canterbury milk solids/herds, despite low rainfall, are between 1.5-1.8 MS/cow/day, and most are harvesting silage for winter supplement feeding.

"Well designed irrigation systems and reliable water supply is now delivering dividends to farmers who have invested in upgrading their systems."

"The significant wider benefits that can be created with sound collaborative water storage development make irrigation a no brainer. We need to grow the pie to create opportunities for all stakeholders," Curtis reiterated, as he encouraged urgent action on water storage for 2011.

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