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.