Irrigation as infrastructure

The government’s 20 year  infrastructure plan lists five priority areas:  broadband, electricity transmission, regulatory reform, roads of national significance and Rugby World Cup 2011.

I don’t have a problem with any of them but I thought there was a glaring omission until I read on and discovered that one of the three emerging priorities is irrigation.

North Otago hasn’t had a decent rainfall all year. Not long ago that would have been causing alarm on farms and in town. It’s still not good for dry land farmers but  it’s not the disaster it used to be because North Otago now has around 40,000 hectares of irrigation which has had a marked impact on productivity, employment opportunities and economic development on and off farm.

It’s more expensive and not a replacement for the water nature sends from the sky, but it ensures better growth in good years and protects farms from the worst affects of drought in bad ones.

North Otago Irrigation Company has sold all the shares for its first stage provides water for 10,000 hectares. It’s now starting to sell shares for the next stage which will double the area under irrigation.

The governments first five priorities will help economic development and provide jobs but the return on investment in those won’t be as fast as that from increased irrigation.

The world is hungry, we’ve got the soils and climate to produce good quality food efficiently, all we lack in too many areas is enough water in the right places. All we need to fix that is irrigation. The investment required is substantial but the returns will be almost immediate.

7 Responses to Irrigation as infrastructure

  1. pdm says:

    In Hawkes Bay good, experienced farmers used to farm for summer droughts which were an annual occurence and I have friends who still do. It was/is just a fact of life.

    I assume that was also the case down the South Island East Coast but is it not happening now? I know the number of dairy conversions mean irrigation is vital but don’t good sheep and beef farmers manage drought conditions these days?

  2. gravedodger says:

    Yes pdm they do but it constrains production to a lower level and sometimes that level is below an economically sustainable one. When we were farming at Waipara in the 70’s, an old head nextdoor made the comment “irrigation wont make us rich but we will be able to stay here and we will really make some gold when we don’t need to use it”. That water was very expensive as we had to gather it into 10 acre feet dams in winter and pump it out in summer. Hence the high value viticulture industry that grew out of it, the rest as they say is history.

  3. homepaddock says:

    PDM, GD is right.

    Dryland farming in drought-rpone areas limits your options and productivity.

    Without irrigation you go backwards in the bad years and play catch up in the good ones making it very difficult to get ahead.

    Droughts bad for stock, pasture, soils, farmers, the people who service & supply them and the economy.

    Irrigation provides options and allows production to continue when the weather doesn’t co-operate.

  4. murrayg1 says:

    “The world is hungry”.

    It’s been hungry for quite some time, but those who suffer can’t afford your prices.

    Don’t use them as a reason.

  5. homepaddock says:

    Murray – if the supply doesn’t rise to meet demand the price of food will be even higher and fewer people will be able to afford it.

  6. Deborah says:

    Without irrigation you go backwards in the bad years and play catch up in the good ones making it very difficult to get ahead.

    If that’s the case, then maybe farming in North Otago is not an economic proposition, and is closer to being a lifestyle choice. Other small businesses go to the wall if they strike bad economic conditions; I don’t understand why farming should be exempt from this basic fact of doing business.

  7. homepaddock says:

    Farming isn’t exempt from the facts of doing business.

    It makes business sense to irrigate when there’s more than enough water in the Waitaki River to compensate for what nature doesn’t provide from the sky.

    We have to have an environmental farm plan which is independently monitored each year so irrigation isn’t leading to economic development at the expense of the environment.

    Dry land is more prone to erosion and run off so irrigating as we do is better for the environment.

    Like any other business, we cope with bad economic conditions and irrigation helps us cope with adverse climatic conditions.

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