The case for irrigation

Drought Officially declared throughout North Island:

A state of drought has been officially declared throughout the entire North Island by the Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy today.

“Local groups have asked for regional declarations of drought in the past week, and it has become clear that nearly all farmers in every part of the North Island are facing very difficult dry conditions.

“Extra Government funding will now be available to Rural Support Trusts who work closely with farmers, providing support and guidance.

“There will also be Rural Assistance Payments (RAPs) available from Work and Income, through the Ministry of Social Development. These are equivalent to the unemployment benefit and are available to those in extreme hardship.

“Many rural people can be reluctant to ask for help, but it is important for them to know that support is available. This is a difficult time for rural families and they need to know that the Government and all New Zealanders are behind them.

“Some rain is forecast this weekend which is welcome news. However we will need more than this to help prepare for the winter and set up for next spring.

“Parts of the South Island are also very dry, in particular the Grey and Buller districts. We are keeping a close watch on all further regions.

“I’m very pleased with how communities have pulled together to help each other out. Federated Farmers have been operating a ‘Feedline’ to match farmers with feed supplies, which is receiving good interest.

“Beef + Lamb NZ, Dairy NZ, the Ministry for Primary Industries and others have also been providing practical support.

“Farmers should contact their accountants or the IRD if they need help or flexibility with making tax payments, and standard hardship assistance is available from Work and Income,” says Mr Guy.

Previously drought has been declared in Northland and North Auckland (February 27) and in the South Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Hawkes Bay regions (March 6).

Regularly updated drought information is available at:

This is a very strong argument for irrigation.

Nothing beats water from the sky. But when nature doesn’t co-operate irrigation helps to protect soil, keeps pastures and crops growing, stock in good condition and money flowing from farms through the rest of the economy.

It gives farmers options, makes farms more resilient and reduces the physical, psychological and financial stress of droughts.

Farmers have various tools in the drought-proofing box but none of them is as good as irrigation.

4 Responses to The case for irrigation

  1. David says:

    Yes, irrigation is good, but it must be well planned and well thought out irrigation. It should not be used 24/7 as it is in Canterbury simply so cows can graze in an area unsuited to high dairy cow numbers. Canterbury soils drain so freely that even after 3 days rain my soil is dry on the fourth.

    Canterbury dairy farmers should have only been permitted if they farmed goats, not cows. Goats can live in far harsher environments than cows, herds can be larger, they produce excellent milk and goat meat is by far the most popular meat on the planet. Wins all round

    Any water for irrigation must come from water stored in dams. Taking water from rivers during a drought only adds further stress to the ecosystems. Taking water from aquifers that take millions of years to replenish is short sighted. At a loss of far less water than that by dairying, Canterbury could have made billions from exporting pure, clean water.

    And there has been a loss in drinking quality. In my 10 years in Canterbury, the first 8 provided the cleanest and most pure tasting water I have ever had. Now it is often chlorinated, and don’t say its eq damage, I live in a part of Canterbury with no eq damage to major infrastructure, a brand new well and far too many cows.


  2. homepaddock says:

    “Any water for irrigation must come from water stored in dams. Taking water from rivers during a drought only adds further stress to the ecosystems. ”

    Taking water when there’s an excess and storing it to use when there’s a shortage not only reduces stress on rivers during drought it provides recreational opportunities in the dams.


  3. “Farmers have various tools in the drought-proofing box but none of them is as good as irrigation.”

    In some dryland areas the marginal return from converting to an unirrigated lucerne based system with its greatly increased water use efficiency may be better than irrigating, especially as remaining water tends to be more expensive to supply and apply. And if/when caps on water application/quantity/quality are implemented.

    We understand how to manage lucerne under grazing now much better than ever before.

    For example, Lone Star Farms’ ‘Caberfeidh’ told a Beef + Lamb New Zealand field-day a year ago that they have a water right they will not use. Their bottom line from dryland lucerne, without the cost of irrigation, is better than irrigated dairying with the cost of conversion and irrigation.


  4. homepaddock says:

    Good point, Aaron, not everywhere is suitable for irrigation.


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