Federated Farmers’ new president Bruce Wills says water is the key to both economic growth and environmental enhancement:
Water is to New Zealand what black coal is to Australian exports. It’s the true backbone.
The challenge for us as the agricultural sector, from farm to processing plant, is to state the environmental case. If we do not put the environmental case alongside the business case, the regulatory brakes will come on at the behest of the wider community.
This is our call to step up.
It’s no good for us to have access to investment cash, willing investors and a world wanting our exports, if schemes get knocked back in the Environment Court or by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Half the game is to meet limits around water quantity. In this arena, rural water infrastructure can deliver positive wins for the environment, one example being minimum ecological flows while delivering reliable water to primary producers.
Native fish and water fowl cannot inhabit rivers that dry up over summer.
But the other half of the game will be to meet limits around water quality. This is where the real challenge comes.
Will increased production from irrigated land inexorably drive increased leaching? Can we secure environmental integrity alongside economic growth? These are tough questions being asked right now let alone what will come.
In the next four decades, we could easily increase the amount of people we can feed some 2.5 times. From 20 million to 50 million people plus. We have immense opportunities to export agricultural services but none of these things matter, unless we can take our communities with us.
The world is short of food, many areas in New Zealand have the potential to produce more providing they can get reliable water.
The challenge is to convince those who might oppose development, that irrigation and the increased production it enables won’t come at the expense of the environment.
Our district has been transformed by irrigation.
Instead of playing catch-up between droughts, farmers have been able to budget on reliable production under irrigation. Rural communities have had a population boost as new jobs have been created. Soils which would have blown away in droughts, have been anchored down by pasture thanks to irrigation.
As well, independently audited environmental farm plans, ensure the protection and enhancement of land and waterways.
The NZIER looked at “The economic impact of increased irrigation” last November, estimating the economic benefits for ‘NZ Inc’of 14 schemes under development.
These 14 schemes will deliver an irrigated area of 350,000 hectares, 270,000 hectares being in Canterbury.
By 2026, these 14 schemes will deliver extra production worth $2 billion a year at the farm gate and almost $4 billion in exports. This, by the way, is 2010 dollars too.
This is a significant increase on the $23 billion in primary exports from 2008/9. Off-farm infrastructure costs with water storage are relatively modest compared to the real gains in agricultural output.
Water storage offers bangs for modest bucks. The 2011 National Infrastructure Plan goes further echoing what Federated Farmers has said for years. Water is our unique competitive advantage and is fundamental to economic growth.
The economic and social benefits are obvious.
The challenge is to provide the evidence that rather than coming at an environmental cost, irrigation can protect and enhance land and waterways and provide enhanced habitats for wildlife.