Rural round-up

March 29, 2017

Health risk concerns for orchard workers – Pam Jones:

Cromwell orchardists are concerned about the public health risks of continued freedom camping by fruitpickers.

While no cases of illness have been reported, the summerfruit industry body says it has serious concerns about the conditions in which some orchard workers are living and the possibility of a breakout of transferrable disease.

Summerfruit New Zealand chairman and Cromwell orchardist Tim Jones said the possible impact on export crops was discussed at Summerfruit’s board meeting last month and about five Cromwell orchardists were concerned. . . 

New leader steps up in agri-tech – Sally Rae:

Tracmap’s new chairman says it is an exciting time for the Mosgiel-based agri-tech company.

Chris Dennison, who farms at Hilderthorpe, in North Otago, replaces Pat Garden, from Millers Flat, who has stepped down after just over a decade.

TracMap was established by Colin Brown in 2006 after he identified a gap in the market for a rugged and easy-to-use GPS guidance and mapping system, specifically designed for New Zealand conditions.

He initially saw the opportunity in ground spreading and the application was pushed wider as it had been developed. . . 

Competition provided impetus – Sally Rae:

Winning the Southland Otago Sharemilker Equity Farmer of the Year title gave Jono and Kelly Bavin so much more than a trophy.

Mr and Mrs Bavin, now regional managers for Southland Otago in the New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards, won the regional title in 2015, which coincided with the dairy downturn starting ”to bite”.

But because they had entered the competition, and really evaluated their business and where it was going, that helped them get through the next two years.

”There’s not many times in your life you pick up your business, throw it on the ground and rearrange it again. That’s what we did,” Mr Bavin said.

Had they not made the decision to enter the competition, then ”things could have been totally different” for the Southland couple. . . 

Calamity on the Coast – Peter Burke:

A ghastly period: that’s how DairyNZ West Coast consulting officer Ross Bishop describes the situation facing the region’s dairy farmers.

They are deeply frustrated and struggling to maintain faith in their dairy company Westland Milk Products, he says.

The company is in a financial mess and chief executive Toni Brendish has the unenviable task of trying to return it to a reasonable financial footing. Already she has made clear there will be a lower payout for farmers and job losses at its factories. . .

Digging into low productive results:

Failure to meet its own goals for reproductive performance (industry targets) has been much talked about at Lincoln University Dairy Farm (LUDF).

Farmers at a February 23 focus day debated the analysis presented and anecdotal comparisons with other farms in the region.

Taking a long term view, particularly if the current season is excluded, reproductive performance has improved on the farm over the past 13 years. But drilling into the detail reveals the farm only once met the industry target of 78% six-week in-calf rate (2013 mating period). Since then the trend in six-week in-calf rates has declined, raising many questions about what is limiting performance. . . 

Our Pinot is pushing the boundaries:

Allen Meadows is a self-confessed, “obsessive” Burgundy lover. So much so that his life is spent compiling advice and information on the world’s foremost Pinot Noir region.

His quarterly reviewBurghound.com was the first of its kind to dedicate itself to the wines of a particular region – and has become the go-to for lovers of the variety.  

While his reviews offer regular updates on Oregon and Californian Pinot, it is not often that other New World countries are included in his extremely popular review. Hence a tasting of 221 wines from New Zealand was an amazing achievement, organised by NZW’s Marketing Manager USA, David Strada. Just getting Meadows to a tasting was an accomplishment – but the end results which featured in Issue 64 of Burghound.com (October 2016) were even more so. . .

More timber trees for planting 2017:

A rise in the number of timber tree seedlings being produced indicates a recent decline in plantation forest replanting may be reversing.

An MPI survey of all 28 commercial forest nurseries in New Zealand shows stock sales in 2016 for planting this year were 52.2 million seedlings, compared with 49.5 million the year before.

Forest Owners Association Chief Executive David Rhodes says the increase in seedling sales is a positive sign the industry is gearing up for increased production, even if the trees planted now will not be harvested for about another 30 years. . . 


Rural round-up

November 7, 2016

Seeing women’s value on the farm – Sally Rae:

Noticing a gap in the sheep and beef sector, Bronwyn Campbell decided to do something to help address it.

She formed South Otago Women in Sheep and Beef — Partners in Business, which will hold its second session today in Balclutha.

The group’s formation came about after Mrs Campbell did an “Understanding Your Farming Business” course in Gore, run by the Agri Women’s Development Trust (AWDT). . .

Fonterra introduces global quality seal:

Fonterra is introducing a new global food quality seal – Trusted Goodness™ – for its products as part of its business strategy to add value to milk and maximise returns for its farmers.

Fonterra’s Chief Operating Officer, Global Consumer and Foodservice Jacqueline Chow, said that market research commissioned by Fonterra shows global consumers are prepared to pay a premium for high quality, safe and healthy food from trusted sources.

“Consumers want to know more about where their food comes from and that it is produced by businesses using sustainable and ethical practices. Consumers are actively seeking out products they can trust to feed their families and that come with these benefits.  . . 

 Agrarian revolution on its way – Richard Rennie:

As whole milk powder prices start to surge again farmers are being cautioned not to let that distract them from some of the biggest farm system disruptions the world has seen.

The world was on the verge of a new agrarian revolution, KPMG’s agribusiness head Ian Proudfoot told delegates at this year’s rural update agribusiness seminar.

It would result in practices done for generations being tipped on their head in a few years. “Don’t let the recent rise cloud your judgement. . . 

 Belief 20% Coast dairy farms up against wall:

About 20% of West Coast dairy farms could be in serious financial trouble, Federated Farmers heard at its quarterly meeting in Greymouth last week.

Provincial president Peter Langford said farmer sentiment was low given Westland Milk Products’ poor performance and many dairy farmers having had to borrow just to continue.

The upheaval and “negative thoughts” around Westland Milk management, governance and performance meant it was fair to say dairy farming, “with low and no payout” over the past two months, was difficult, he said.

Farmlands change – Sally Rae:

Hildathorpe farmer Chris Dennison has been elected to the Farmlands board, ousting long-serving director and fellow North Otago farmer John Foley.

Last month, Mr Dennison was critical of the co-operative’s performance after it posted a $9million loss, saying it appeared to have “lost its way”. The result of the South Island director election was announced at the company’s annual meeting in Christchurch on Tuesday.

Mr Dennison and his wife Kay run a 400ha arable farm with an adjacent dairy farm milking 800 cows on the lower Waitaki Plains. . . 

Talley’s add kale to healthy menu choice – Mike Watson:

Coal is not the only ‘crop’ Motueka-based food producer Talley’s has been investing in.

The company, which recently added coal mining to its list of investments, is also feeling its way with commercially grown kale for a mainly domestic consumer market.

For nearly 30 years Talley’s was synonymous with commercial pea growing in Marlborough.

The seafood, dairy, meat and vegetable processing company once harvested up to 1000ha of peas in the region. . . 

More grass and fewer cows equals more milk for Cloverdale Dairies – Heather Chalmers:

A pasture based system is paying off for Cloverdale Dairies owners Andrew and Nicky Watt, writes Heather Chalmers.

Despite managing one of the biggest dairy herds in Canterbury, Andrew and Nicky Watt definitely have their finger on the pulse, with their low-cost, pasture-based system consistently generating a business performance that is the envy of many.

Covering a five kilometre square block in the middle of the Canterbury Plains near Ashburton, Cloverdale Dairies runs almost 3000 cows and employs up to 22 staff in the peak of the season. . . .

 


Rural round-up

September 4, 2015

Farmers not sidestepping health and safety reform – Katie Milne:

The Health and Safety Reform Bill has grabbed many recent headlines because of what is deemed a high risk industry – and what is not.

Because most farming industries fall on the low-risk side, many people seem to have rushed to a judgement that farmers are excluded from these reforms.

This is simply not the case.

The reforms are designed to improve the safety of every industry and every workplace. Farms included.

What’s more, the bill passed by Parliament last week is welcomed by Federated Farmers for the very reason it will further help our members to address the high level of workplace incidents and fatalities on our farms. . . 

Survey shows banks have stepped up to the plate during dairy downturn:

Banks are providing much needed support to New Zealand’s dairy industry during this period of desperately low prices, a survey from Federated Farmers has revealed. 

Only 6.6% of dairy farmers say they have come under undue pressure from banks over their mortgage. Just 5.7% are dissatisfied with banks over their mortgages and as little as 3.1% are unhappy about the quality of communication from banks over the past three months. 

Across all farming industries the level of dissatisfaction over mortgages is even less (5.2%), with 5.5% saying they have come under undue pressure in this area and 3.5% unhappy with how banks are communicating with them.

The survey was conducted the week following Fonterra’s announcement on 7 August of a forecast payout to farmers of $3.85 per kilogram of milk solids, and Federated Farmers President Dr William Rolleston says the organisation took the step because it was vital the industry knew exactly what level of support it was receiving.  . . 

Canola grower all in favour of friendly rivalry – Sally Rae:

Competition is hotting up globally in the world of canola and even Guinness World Records is finally excited.

A few years ago, North Otago arable farmer Chris Dennison approached Guinness World Records (GWR) and suggested a new category for the crop, as a lot of canola was grown in the world and there was interest in achieving high yields. . . 

What other EU governments are doing to help their farmers – Amy Forde:

Fed-up Irish dairy, grain and pig farmers took to the streets of Dublin recently to protest about the low prices they are receiving for their produce and low farm incomes.

It is an EU-wide problem and next week there will be an extraordinary meeting of EU agriculture ministers in Brussels.

The ministers will debate the state of play in EU markets as weak prices in a number of sectors is leading to increased farmer unrest across the continent. . . 

Orchard’s Innovation Recognised in Greater Wellington Ballance Farm Environment Awards:

Entering the Greater Wellington Ballance Farm Environment Awards for the second time proved well worthwhile for pipfruit operation JR’s Orchard Ltd.

Owners JR Van Vliet and Jamiee Burns first entered in 2009 and were thrilled to win the Innovation award for the clever way they installed crop protection netting on the 117ha orchard (92ha planted) on the eastern edge of Greytown.

“We found the awards to be a wonderful experience,” says Jamiee.

“We learnt so much, and it made us re-evaluate some of the processes we were using in the operation.” . . .

Klein's Agri Services's photo.

Butchery sizzles competition to take out bacon award:

Butcheries in Christchurch and Auckland have taken out the country’s top awards for bacon and ham.

The 100% NZ Bacon & Ham Competition celebrates turning New Zealand grown pork into bacon and ham products.

Cashmere Cuisine in Christchurch won bacon of the year and Westmere Butchery in Auckland won ham of the year. . . 


Rural round-up

February 11, 2015

More to farming than money‘ – Kate Taylor:

Central Hawke’s Bay farmer Mark Toulmin says winning the Hawke’s Bay Farmer of the Year title opened a lot of doors for his family’s farming operation. Entries for this year’s competition close on February 13.

“I would encourage anyone to give it a go,” he says. “It’s worth it. It introduced us to new people and new ideas, financial opportunities . . . and people trust your opinion.

“Put your business out there, especially if you’re doing something different or thinking outside the square, that helps if you’re not just doing the same as everyone else.”

Toulmin says it’s not all about finances, either. . .

Kiwi grower sets new oilseed rape yield record of 6.31t/ha – Andrew Swallow:

Virgin land, the ideal climate and good weed control are the key components of a New Zealand grower’s record-breaking crop of oilseed rape.

Chris Dennison harvested a moisture-corrected 64.37t off 10.2ha on 23 January, a yield of 6.31t/ha. This beats the 6.14t/ha record set by Tim Lamyman, of Worlaby Farms, Lincolnshire, last July.

Mr Dennison, a former world record wheat yield holder from near Oamaru, on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island, says reading about Mr Lamyman’s feat in Farmers Weekly spurred him to “have a crack” at the OSR record. . .

Death of top Jersey Bull a huge loss:

The late Manzello

CRV Ambreed’s highest ranked Jersey bull passed away over the weekend which his breeder said is a huge loss to New Zealand’s dairy industry.

Pukeroa TGM Manzello’s breeders, Alan and Vivian Lockwood-Geck, said they were saddened to hear their star sire had passed away while still in his prime. . .

 LIC team to visit Southland farms:

Farmer-owned co-operative LIC has a team of more than 140 meeting in Invercargill next week, to check out the local dairy scene and connect with Southland farmers for its biannual sales conference.

The three-day event, which includes a number of visits to farms in the area, brings LIC’s nationwide team of farm solutions managers together to learn more about what’s happening on-farm, the challenges farmers are facing this season and solutions the co-op can provide.

Chief executive Wayne McNee says it is the first time the conference has been held in the South Island. . .

LIC forms strategic partnership with SCR world-leading cow intelligence provider:

Farmer-owned co-operative LIC (NZX:LIC) has secured a new strategic partnership with the world-leading cow monitoring and milking intelligence solutions company, SCR.

The partnership includes a distribution agreement whereby SCR, recently acquired by Allflex Group, will distribute the co-op’s DAL milking sensors internationally and LIC will become a New Zealand distributor for SCR’s cow reproduction and health monitoring system, Heatime®.

LIC chief executive Wayne McNee says the partnership is part of the co-op’s strategy to grow the business overseas and provide New Zealand dairy farmers with more choice.

“SCR is a world-leading provider of cow intelligence systems with a strong history of delivering solutions to improve farm efficiency worldwide. This agreement aligns with our vision to improve the prosperity and productivity of our farmers, and our focus on key international markets that will add value for shareholders in New Zealand. . .

At a time when we need our forests to remove carbon from the air, why push for farming methods that demand more and more land be used for agriculture because it cannot produce as much food as non-organic farms? (Image: Pico van Houtryve (CC))


Rural round-up

January 26, 2015

Record canola crop on irrigated plot – Sally Rae:

As dry conditions continue in North Otago, a world-record canola crop harvested at Hilderthorpe has provided proof of the benefits of irrigation.

Arable farmer Chris Dennison achieved the record crop on Friday, with a 6.3-tonne-per-hectare yield, beating the previous record of 6.14 tonnes, set by an English farmer last August.

While Mr Dennison has had a few attempts at wheat world records over the years, it was his first crack at improving on the record for canola.

He approached Guinness World Records a few years ago, wanting to attempt to break a canola record, having had some ”really big crops”. . .

Alpine water would counter dry spell  – Nicky Hyslop:

If you’re lucky enough to still be on holiday, no-one will blame you for basking in the hot, dry weather being experienced in many parts of New Zealand.

For the South Island’s east coast it’s been the first decent Kiwi summer for decades with temperatures regularly in the 30s and little or no rainfall.

But spare a thought for farmers whose very livelihood relies on adding water to soil to grow crops, feed and water animals. If regular water doesn’t come from the sky in the form of rainfall, irrigation plugs the gap by providing access to authorised river, dam and groundwater supplies. . .

Dairy, lamb skid on oil slick – Andrea Fox:

Tumbling prices at the petrol pump have a sting in the tail for farmers, with predictions that oil-producing countries’ appetite for dairy products and lamb will shrink along with their economies.

Economists say with some oil-producing countries – in particular the Middle East region – being important markets for New Zealand dairy exports, the oil price fall will dampen chances of a commodity dairy price recovery in the first half of the year, suggested by the recent three-strike run of improved average prices on Fonterra’s Global Dairy Trade auctions.

The oil price collapse could also offset any economic comfort for commodity exporters from the weakening of the New Zealand dollar against the US dollar, in which this country mostly trades overseas.

In the sheepmeat export sector, the oil price plunge is also said to be contributing to a fall in the lamb schedule since early December. . .

Network supportive – finalist – Sally Rae:

Andrea Murphy is proud to call New Zealand home.

Ms Murphy, who is a finalist in the 2015 Dairy Woman of the Year competition, has forged a global career as a dairy nutritionist.

Originally from Canada, she worked in China before moving to New Zealand 11 years ago. She is based in Alexandra where she works for PGG Wrightson and is also on the committee for the New Zealand Association of Ruminant Nutritionists. . .

Ready to take on the male contingent – Sally Rae:

When Olivia Ross lines up for the Otago-Southland regional final of the ANZ Young Farmer Contest in Queenstown next month, she intends giving it ”120%”.

The winner will go through to the contest’s grand final at Taupo in July and only three women have ever made it that far.

Louise Collingwood, representing Waikato-Bay of Plenty, came the closest to claiming the title, finishing second to Otago-Southland’s Robert Kempthorne in 2003 and third in 2004, while Denise Brown was a grand finalist in 1981 and Katherine Tucker in 2012. . .

High-country farm owner changes the guard – Kate Taylor:

Finding a compatible lessee is critical in a successful ongoing partnership, says high country farmer Geoffrey Thomson.

For the past six months, Mt Earnslaw Station at the head of Lake Wakatipu in Otago, has been leased to former high country farm managers Cameron Craigie and partner Anita Holthaus.

The feeling of not being responsible for the stock on a daily basis after so many years was a weight off the shoulders, Thomson says. He took over the 6670 hectare station from his parents in 1976, having spent time away at boarding school, university and then working as a civil engineer. He and Diana have two sons in their early 20s, James and Thomas, who have both chosen non-farming careers. . .

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Adrienne Pierce's photo.


Majority of NZers appreciate irrigation

February 8, 2014

An independent phone poll, commissioned by Irrigation New Zealand, reveals that New Zealanders – regardless of political leaning – see irrigation as good.

The poll also confirms that New Zealanders recognise the link between irrigation and their ability to access cheap and plentiful produce in their supermarkets.

The survey canvassed 1,000 respondents from Auckland, Canterbury, Wellington, Wairarapa and Hawkes Bay to better understand public perceptions of irrigation.

The only one of the areas surveyed  – Auckland, Canterbury, Wellington, Wairarapa and Hawkes Bay – which has significant areas of irrigation is, I think Canterbury.

Irrigation CEO, Andrew Curtis, says he didn’t expect such a positive response to irrigation from the New Zealand public and is encouraged by the results.

“Close to two-thirds overall agree that irrigation is good for New Zealand. This appears to be the case across the political spectrum which reinforces our belief in the need for a bi-partisan approach to irrigation,” he says.

“In an election year our plea is for politicians to come together to develop a strong vision to continue modernising irrigation infrastructure and practice which would drive sustainable development and achieve benefits for all.”

The poll also identified food production, water management and economic growth as major benefits of irrigation. Environmental impact was identified as a concern and there was a call from respondents for irrigation to be used responsibly – for irrigators to limit losses from nutrients as a result of irrigation; for water use to continue to be monitored and for water wastage to be limited.

This can easily be managed through the resource consent process. North Otago Irrigation Company’s requirement for all shareholders to have environment farm plans which are independently audited each year is a good model.

Andrew Curtis says that irrigation is not just a rural issue and that all New Zealanders need to use water efficiently. The focus now needs to turn to urban and rural water storage development. Providing more information about irrigation to the public is also essential he says.

“The survey shows us New Zealand recognise irrigation’s role in producing affordable and diverse food, but they want to know more about how irrigation works, who is responsible and how it impacts the environment,” he comments.

“We are working with agencies, organisations and individuals to minimise the impact of irrigation on our rivers and river flow and water quality limits are being set so that irrigators sustainably manage the water we all value.” . . .

It is disappointing that few recognise the environmental benefits or irrigation. But it’s not surprising when it’s far more often in the news when there are problems than for good reasons such as its ability to improve water quality and protect fragile soils.

There is no mention of the recreational benefits either, such as this one on the Lower Waitaki.

Imagine having key access to a private waterway with a suite of yachts, kayaks and paddleboards available for year-round use.

It’s not the lifestyles of the rich and famous, but an exciting new initiative by a group of Oamaru dairy farmers who have made sailing and kayaking accessible to anyone in their North Otago community.

The farmers, all shareholders of the Lower Waitaki Irrigation Company, saw an opportunity for recreational use of a 5 hectare irrigation buffer pond developed just over a year ago. With the support of the irrigation company, they created the Lower Waitaki Water Sports Trust to progress the concept.

While the pond was built for irrigation storage, Trust Chairman Richard Willans says its proximity to Oamaru, easy access and un-impeded views make it ideal for anyone wanting to learn how to sail or paddle. “It’s the safest place to get out and learn on. You can see the whole pond from any point as it’s just so flat.” Local farmers supported the project as a way to encourage greater interaction between townies and farmers. “We want to get people from the town out into the country,” he says.

Ironically, Mr Willans admits none of the trust’s committee had sailing or paddling experience before getting involved, but local boaties and kayakers have been happy to provide advice. He says they’re enthusiastic about the new water asset on their back door-step which compares favorably to the next closest waterways, the Waitaki Lakes, which take another 40 minutes to reach.

The project to date has cost more than $150,000 with the trust sourcing funding from the irrigation company, local businesses, Meridian Trust, Waitaki District Council and the Otago Community Trust. An A4 bay shed for storage, fencing of the area and a car park were completed just before Christmas and the project’s jewel in the crown is a floating jetty.

For only $50 a year, key holders gain access to the pond as well as the use of 10 yachts, 15 kayaks and two paddleboards stored at the lake. Water safety measures including lifejackets and a fully inflatable motorized rescue boat are also available on-site.  

The Lower Waitaki Irrigation Company granted the trust a long term peppercorn rent for the site as Chairman Chris Dennison says the company sees the project as worthy.

“In constructing the pond we aimed to design structures and controls so they posed no harm to the public and the risk to users would be minimal. Working with the community on this joint venture has produced a great outcome and all this happened very quickly. The pond was only built in late 2012 and the trust’s facilities were finished last month,” he says.

Originally the pond was going to embrace day visitors such as anglers, but advice from a health and safety consultant suggested compulsory membership would safeguard its farmer-backers. You have to be a member of the trust to use the pond; however membership is open to anyone who is happy to abide by a comprehensive list of rules in place to ensure the safety of all users. 

An official opening of the pond will take place in the next couple of months and the trust hopes to bring un-named Olympians to town to launch the project.

The ODT has more on the waters sports park here.


Irrigation’s not just for farmers

January 20, 2014

IrrigationNZ chief executive, Andrew Curtis, shows irrigation isn’t just for farmers:

You finally made it out of the office and hit the road for a much-deserved break. Whether you towed a boat, carried mountain bikes or packed the caravan or tent for a quick escape this summer, chances are you took advantage of irrigation infrastructure.

While most of us think of our waterways as natural, the reality is many popular water destinations have been modified to support farming or energy production.  Your annual summer holiday just as likely included a dip in a river or lake that helps generate electricity or waters crops as it was swimming at the local pool.  

Increasingly farmers and irrigation scheme managers are incorporating recreation interests when they design new systems. Event managers and community groups are also recognising the unique potential of irrigation canals and storage ponds for fundraising and thrill-seeking. 

The challenge for those managing irrigation infrastructure is ensuring holiday makers and adrenalin junkies can be safely integrated into commercial operations, without impeding vital irrigation flows. We profile several irrigation schemes working with their communities to provide access to water for activities other than irrigation.

New Zealand’s largest irrigation scheme, the Rangitata Diversion Race (RDR) is also one of our oldest. Depression-era labour was used initially to build the race which officially opened in 1945.

Several Mid Canterbury community groups already take advantage of the RDR’s 67km of canals – most visibly the ‘Peak to Pub’, ‘Big Day at the Office’ and Frostbusters’ multisport races. 

And this Easter, a new endurance horse-riding event is likely to see riders crossing the canals as part of 36 hours on horse-back in the district.

Ben Curry, CEO of the RDR, says it’s a balancing act providing access, as health and safety as well as operational and insurance issues, need to be taken into account. But the company tries to find ways to accommodate requests.

While swimming is not allowed due to multiple potential hazards within the water (some of which are submerged), fishing, duck-shooting and cycling along the canals are permitted. A local tourism company has just been given approval to offer high-end cycle tours along the RDR close to the foothills, and the Methven Walkway, created by the local Lions group and a well-used visitor attraction, meanders along sections of the race. 

“We had hoped that the RDR would have been included in the National Cycleway network. It’s still an aspiration,” says Mr Curry.

Lake Opuha is the jewel in the crown when promoters cite wider benefits from irrigation. The man-made 700 hectare lake not only provides water for 230 farms, but as the most accessible lake in South Canterbury, is a magnet for local boaties, kayakers and rowers. 

While rainbow trout were found in Opuha River before the dam was built, brown trout and salmon have since been released into the lake.

Opuha Water Ltd CEO Tony McCormick says since it was filled in 1998, the lake has been a popular destination for anglers and boaties.

His irrigation company supports community use of the lake and its related systems where it can.

Fundraising events are common and one of the most colourful is South Canterbury Diabete’s annual duck race held in an irrigation channel on Arowhenua Road. Fairlie Lions has run a duathalon and mountain bike event around the lake for the past two years and before that hosted fishing competitions. Local farmer and Lions member Murray Bell says the lake is the perfect setting. “It’s a great facility and the location is good as it’s convenient.” As a shareholder in the scheme, Mr Bell says he, like other farmers who supported the lake’s development, is buoyed by its success.

“The duathalon is such a small part of it. Any weekend you are there it’s crowded with boats and in the early mornings you watch the rowing clubs turn up.”

Keith McRobie is President of the Timaru Rowing Club and can vouch for Opuha’s value.

“We’ve used the lake pretty much since it was filled. We are quite limited in Timaru with just a 1km stretch of water so it was a Godsend to have something developed just 45km from town.”

Opuha is pretty much rowable year-round as it is sheltered and accessible during most weather conditions, says Mr McRobie.

Having access to the lake for the past decade has improved South Canterbury’s rowing results. “The schools here punch above their weight at a regional and national level. Every year we have one or two national representatives and Opuha is part of the reason.”

Discussions are underway with the irrigation company and supporters about dedicated facilities for rowing at the lake. Currently three Timaru schools leave boats stored on local farmers’ properties but ideally a purpose-built storage shed and rowing ramp will result in the future.

“We’ve had some discussions with the company and we’re very keen to pursue. If you compare us with Auckland or any other major city, 45 minutes is not really a problem,” he says.    

The Lake Opuha Users Group was created when the lake was first formed to initiate extra amenities for visitors and recreational users of the lake.

Committee member David Williams says their biggest project to date has been the building of a boat ramp to create safe access. Before that up to 150 cars would converge on a 300m section of lake edge that offered the easiest access. Now 90% of traffic has been redirected to the boat ramp greatly reducing the potential for mayhem, he says.

As a farmer himself, Mr Williams says the biggest challenge now is ensuring the lake’s recreational popularity doesn’t impact on its delivery of water to shareholders. “One of the biggest problems for Opuha in the future could be the issue of minimum flows. Some of the recreational fraternity would like to see fluctuations in river flows. But at the end of the day it is the irrigators who are paying,” he says.

Another issue, not created by recreational use, but occasionally compounded by poor behaviour by some boaties, is the spread of didymo. The irrigation scheme and recreational users will need to work together to tackle the algal bloom problem in the future, says Mr Williams.

“Irrigation has provided a great facility by putting this lake here. For the recreationalists there has been a big spin off. At the end of the day it’s been very positive for them and the economic value to our community is also positive.”

The Lower Waitaki Irrigation Company prides itself on a strong relationship with its community, says Chairman Chris Dennison.

“We’re very keen to add benefits to the whole community and not just through the economic driver that irrigation brings,” he says.

 Among its initiatives is the ‘Take A Kid Fishing’ day which the company resurrected in conjunction with the Waitaki Irrigators Collective after an absence of many years. 

Using a shareholder’s attractive tree-lined pond already stocked with trout, 700 salmon were released resulting in very happy young anglers, says Mr Dennison. “The farmer kept his pond open for several weeks after the event to allow the public to fish in a controlled environment with pretty good odds. For young people fishing is about catching fish and most of the kids went away with something for dinner.”

The company has also worked with a local high school to provide access for a fast water kayaking course. Kayaking experts created the course on the scheme’s intake channel by placing obstacles within the stretch of turbulent water and hanging gates from overhead wires. “The effects for us are minimal and the school has ended up with a really good course with easy access,” he says.

Irrigation schemes are developed, and largely paid for, by farmers but the benefits from them are shared well outside of farming.

The economic spin-off helps those who work for and service farms.

Environmental benefits include protecting fragile soils from wind erosion and enhanced flows in natural waterways.

And then there are the recreational opportunities outlined above.


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