Economic, environmental and social boost from irrigation

North Otago Irrigation Company’s scheme has created 76 new jobs and boosted farm incomes by $44 million dollars.

This was the finding of a Waitaki Development Board study.

The results showed the scheme was “the single most significant economic development” project in the Waitaki district in recent years, board chairman Peter Robinson said yesterday.

The study of the farms in the scheme revealed some phenomenal increases, exceeding the expected performance and making larger gains than originally forecast at the time resource consents for water from the lower Waitaki River were granted.

For example, revenue from the irrigated properties has increased from $21 million without irrigation to $65 million with irrigation.

“This is the single most significant economic development scheme the Waitaki District has seen in recent years – these results would not have been achievable without this investment,” Mr Robinson said.

I don’t think the study took into account the development which took place in expectation of the irrigation scheme which would have created a similar number of jobs.

The social benefits are also significant. For the first time since the ag-sag of the 80s farmers’ adult children have returned home in reasonable numbers, reducing the average age of the rural population which had been increasing for more than 30 years.

There were eight houses in our road before irrigation, now there are 13, with another planned for next year. The school had to put on a bigger bus to cope with the increase in pupils.

The irrigation scheme will also have been one of the factors in an increase in the number of births at Oamaru Hospital – 86 eight years ago and a record 103 last year.

Last summer’s drought was one of the worst for years – we had only about half our average annual rainfall in the year to March.

In the past this would have had a devastating impact not just on farmers but on the people who supply and service them and this would have flowed on to significant reduction in spending in Oamaru. The lack of rain last summer was very difficult for farmers on dryland but there are now enough irrigated properties to insulate the wider community from the worst of impacts of drought.

The environmental impact has also been positive. A condition of the NOIC consent was that all shareholders have to have environmental farm plans which are independently audited each year to ensure that water and soil quality are safeguarded.

The downlands which received water from the NOIC scheme have good soils but were prone to wind erosion in droughts. Irrigation means that is no longer a concern.

Some farmers have pulled out trees to cater for centre pivot irrigators. But others have used the reliable water supply to increase plantings and many have also channelled water into gardens.

One of the biggest benefits from the increased irrigation is difficult to measure but obvious to anyone who knows the district. That’s the change of mindset. Without irrigation North Otago farmers always had to farm for droughts – going backwards when it was dry and playing catch-up when it rained.

Even the most optimistic people found it difficult to retain a sunny outlook under those circumstances. Thanks to irrigation, instead of focussing on how to stop going backwards they are able to put their energy and enthusiasm into activities which make a positive difference on farms and in the wider community.

9 Responses to Economic, environmental and social boost from irrigation

  1. gravedodger says:

    I could wax lyrical on the demise of the wonderful brown landscape of the North Otago limestone hills in almost every summer of my youth but I will resist as it could all be recreated by turning off the tap that so many of the benighted environmentalists would have us do.
    Driving through the Amuri last weekend on my way to the “back to Waiau” event to celebrate the centenary of the pub where I embarked on my life of drink related law breaking over 1/2 a century ago, it was somewhat uplifting to see land that struggled to support one dry sheep unit per acre producing thousands of dollars per acre with the addition of fertilizer,management and the jewel of the plains, “WATER”.
    The land to the east of the Red Post barely grew a Matagouri bush among the Danthonia and Browntop and today is a veritable oasis.
    I am told the early problems with leaching of nutrients and nitrates to the subterranean water has largely been alleviated with the conversion from “border-dyking” to the “pivots” and that is all good.
    The “back to Waiau” event was a bit of a blast with the committee and the Northcote family reinstating the old 24 stand “Highfield” woolshed with 24 blade shearers then 24 machine shearers attacking the 2000 odd woollies supplied by “Woodchester”. All very nostalgic but it still smelt like a woolshed with that unmistaken odour of faeces and urine mixed with a wonderful hot spring afternoon. Little Bro was one of the blade shearers and watching them in the silence that is so much a part of that activity was such a contrast to the modern shearing scene with a radio blaring in competition with the noise of the machines.
    Bit off topic Ele but the waxing lyrical just overcame me.

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  2. homepaddock says:

    Off topic lyrical waxing is generally welcomed, GD.

    I like the smell of the woolshed too – but always thought it was just wool 🙂

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  3. robertguyton says:

    China is leading the way in diverting water to satisfy the desires of humans. What do you think of their idea of re-routing whole rivers to Beijing Ele?
    It’s the end result of irrigation schemes such as those being developed here.

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  4. homepaddock says:

    I don’t know enough of the details of what’s happening in China to comment on that.

    Isn’t some Waikato water being used – or intended to be used – for Auckland?

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  5. robertguyton says:

    “After the devastating natural disasters that have hit China recently, another crisis is looming. Drought, pollution and heavy usage in the fast-developing megacities have resulted in a shortage of water. A huge construction effort is underway to divert water from the south to the north. But experts warn that it will not solve China’s structural water problems.”

    http://www.watercrisischina.com/2008/10/diverting-water-to-beijing/

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  6. simfarmer says:

    Couldn’t agree more with the economic benefits. The only problem with dairy conversions everywhere (environmental effects are overstated) is that dairying wrecks communitys and community spirit. The demographics completely change as unskilled drug fuelled dairyworkers move into the commmunity and replace skilled shepards and shearers. From the outside looking in GD culverden/amuri looks better but the communitys are buggered. The same has happened through the grey valley etc on the west coast with the rise of dairying. The problem is milking cows completely sucks 🙂

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  7. homepaddock says:

    Simfarmer – our community had changed before dairying came in with a lot of transient people because of the ag-sag of the 80s and its aftermath.

    There were about 80 chidlren at the local school when our daughter started and we knew all the familes. When she left there were only about 30 kids and we knew only half the families.

    Once dairying comes in you have to work much harder to maintain a community though because of the transient nature of the work.

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  8. gravedodger says:

    Simfarmer IMHO there is no more or less “drugtaking” among dairyfarm workers than the general population and I have known many shearers and shed hands who are serious drug users and I am excluding the universally accepted alcohol here as ‘it’ has been a serious problem for many manual workers for generations as the thirst is vainly attempted to be slated with beer when water would be more suitable with electrolyte supplements.(do as I say not as I do says muz)
    As to the Grey Valley, many of the shall we say, alternative lifestylers, were just as big a threat to what could be called traditional community values and spirit.
    It is called evolution I think.
    One of my passions since retiring has been Lions Club with service and comradiere being particularly rewarding and most rural comunities that I vist with have had to make a concious effort to absorb the personal changes wrought by the dairy expansion but with effort it can be achieved.
    All communities are finding it harder to absorb changing demographics and social attitudes but I consider the community response to the Quake and its aftermath in CHCH to be illuminating to say the least. Sometimes it takes a significant event to motovate the latent good in the human spirit.
    I guess my glass is still half full, not half empty.

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  9. simfarmer says:

    I know what you both are saying; but you both probably realise deep down that once a region goes wholesale dairying the community rural spirit is buggered and it may as well just be the suburbs. On a positive note wool prices are picking up. (Disclaimer: currently taking a hiatus from shearing and are sharemilking but given the rate has increased in auzzie may go back next year !)

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