Economic, environmental and social boost from irrigation

29/10/2010

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.


%d bloggers like this: