Rural round-up

February 28, 2018

Diverse entries recognised in Irrigation Innovation Awards :

A water race safety video for children, a GIS Database system helping farmers to meet environmental requirements and a new effluent screen which allows effluent to be more easily applied via centre pivot irrigators have been named as finalists in IrrigationNZ’s Irrigation Innovation Awards for 2018.

Be Water-Race Safe is a video for school age children developed by the Waitaki Irrigators Collective. Some of the Collective’s member schemes operate open water races in parts of Waitaki and Waimate, which supply water for irrigation, stock, town supply, and industry. . . 

Will Taylor wins Taranaki/Manawatu regional final of FMG Young Farmer of the Year:

A technical field representative for PGG Wrightson has been named the Taranaki/Manawatu FMG Young Farmer of the Year.

Will Taylor, 26, took out the title after winning the hotly-contested Taranaki/Manawatu Regional Final in Wellington tonight.

The event saw eight finalists from across the sprawling region tackle a series of gruelling modules, including a fast-paced agri-knowledge quiz. . . 

Fonterra finally makes a move on a2 milk – Pam Tipa:

a2 Milk Co has struck a deal with Fonterra that will enable it, over time, to diversify its milk sourcing, processing and manufacturing to meet growing demand for its products, the company says.
It will not affect its current relationship with Synlait, a spokesman told Dairy News.

Fonterra and a2 Milk Company (a2MC) have signed a deal that links the co-op’s global milk pool and supply chain, manufacturing, and sales and distribution with a2MC’s brand strength and capabilities.

Fonterra will now begin talking to its farmers to source an A2 milk pool for a2MC products in New Zealand. A similar milk pool in Australia will also be developed. . . 

Synlait Milk buys Pokeno site for new factory, flags $260M investment – Paul McBeth:

(BusinessDesk) – Synlait Milk has conditionally bought a site in Pokeno in Waikato where it plans to spend $260 million developing its second nutritional powder manufacturing factory.

The Rakaia-based milk processor’s acquisition is subject to Overseas Investment Office approval, and the company said it will know the commissioning date for the factory once it’s got consents and approvals. The first dryer at the Pokeno site is expected to have annual capacity of 40,000 metric tonnes, matching dryer three at its Dunsandel site. . . .

More NZ organic winegrowers are needed to meet growing international demand:

Organic Winegrowers New Zealand is calling for more grape growers to convert to organic production to meet growing international demand.

There is currently a shortage of organic winegrapes in New Zealand.

“I’m constantly fielding phone calls from established wine companies and new wine companies looking to purchase organic fruit, because they’re seeing and –

being asked for it in markets around the world, and the supply’s not there,” says Bart Arnst.  . .

TOMRA Continues Expansion in Global Food Sorting Solutions Sector with acquisition of BBC Technologies:

TOMRA today signed an agreement to acquire 100 percent of the shares in BBC Technologies*. The deal sees BBC Technologies’ precision grading systems and innovative punnet and clamshell filling solutions for blueberries and other small fruits join TOMRA Food’s own fruit inspection and grading technology portfolio.

TOMRA will also acquirewww.freshtracker.com, innovative software which TOMRA foresees complementing its other developments in data and analytics solutions. Freshtracker™ enables traceability of the origins and characteristics of individual products from harvesting, processing and packaging, through to point-of-sale. . .

What happened when New Zealand got rid of government subsidies for farmers? – Josh Siegel:

In 2006, Chris Hausman, a fourth-generation Midwestern farmer long accustomed to depending on government support for survival, traveled across the world to witness a revolution in agriculture.

It had been more than 20 years since a left-leaning government in New Zealand chose to eliminate government subsidies for farmers, and Hausman was surprised at what had transpired since.

“I will tell you it was a shock to their agricultural system,” says Hausman, 58, who farms corn and soybeans on a 1,500-acre plot 150 miles south of Chicago. . . 

 


Drought reinforces need for storage

January 8, 2015

We woke to mizzle – a misty drizzle – on Tuesday morning.

Holiday-makers wouldn’t have been pleased but we were delighted.

However, by mid-morning the sky had cleared and temperatures were rising.

We haven’t had a decent rain since July and it’s got all the signs of the droughts which in North Otago every few years.

Irrigation schemes using water from the Waitaki River have 99% reliability but takes from the Kakanui River are restricted and will stop altogether if the weather doesn’t break soon.

Further north in South Canterbury it’s drier still.

Less snow melt put less water in the Opuha Dam in spring and those irrigating from it are now on restrictions.

Friends near Waimate ran out of stock water weeks ago and the tanker which comes to collect their milk brings water for them.

There is nothing new about drought but the recurrence reinforces the need for more water storage:

Water restrictions for irrigating farmers look set to follow a similar pattern to the 2012-13 summer, says IrrigationNZ, when drought conditions in the North and South Island wiped more than $1billion dollars from the NZ economy.

“This summer once again highlights the need to fast track alpine-fed* water storage infrastructure in both the South and North Islands. Despite the focus upon irrigation development over the past five years, New Zealand has made very limited progress in this space,” says IrrigationNZ CEO Andrew Curtis. “We have modernised and improved our irrigation distribution systems but have failed to invest in alpine water storage to our detriment.”

(*Alpine-fed water storage refers to dams and water storage lakes that are replenished by rainfall and snowmelt within our alpine environments in contrast to streams and rivers that are fed by foothills rainfall. Alpine rainfall is more consistent and plentiful than foothills and plains rainfall, hence its suitability to provide reliable water supply).

‘We’re losing sight of the prize that reliable alpine-fed irrigation water storage could bring to both the environment and economy. Certainty of water supply allows investment in SMART irrigation technologies that greatly improve nutrient management and production. There are also direct benefits from storage including the augmentation of summer river flows or being able to release flushing flows that cleanse rivers of summer algal growth,” says Mr Curtis.

Irrigation restrictions are now widespread in Canterbury and Otago, with Hawke’s Bay dry but maintaining flows.

One of the worst hit areas is South Canterbury with the Opuha Dam, a foothill-fed river catchment, facing unprecedented water shortages. Opuha’s lake level is of major concern, says Opuha Water Supply Ltd CEO Tony McCormick. “Our situation and outlook have not improved and the lake level continues to drop steadily. Today the lake is at 31% full. We are currently on 25% irrigation restrictions and expect to move to 50% restrictions next week when the lake hits another ‘trigger’ level of 25% full. Our current predictions suggest that the lake could be fully depleted by the end of February.”

Mr McCormick says while the initial problem was a lack of stored water, the situation is now being compounded by very dry conditions being experienced across the South Canterbury region.

The Ashburton River is on full restriction which has forced the Ashburton Lyndhurst Irrigation Company to place shareholders on 85% allocation. However the Rangitata River is currently flowing at a healthy level due to good rainfall in the alps over the New Year, says Jess Dargue, ALIC scheme manager.

While some North Canterbury rivers are on restriction, Amuri Irrigation Limited CEO Andrew Barton says both the Waiau and Hurunui, both alpine rivers, are maintaining flows so scheme restrictions look unlikely in the near future.

While there are no restrictions on major irrigation schemes in the Lower Waitaki at the moment, all fed by the Waitaki River, an alpine river with storages built for hydropower, Elizabeth Soal, Policy Manager of the Waitaki Irrigators Collective says partial restrictions affecting independent irrigators are in effect on hill-fed tributary rivers including the Hakataramea, the Maerewhenua and the Awakino. There are also restrictions (some full restrictions) on some of the South Canterbury Coastal streams and waterways, including parts of the Waihao River, Buchanans Creek and the Sir Charles Creek.

In Otago, supplementary permits off the Kakanui River have ceased with the first minimum flow alert being active, and the river is approaching its absolute minimum flow, which would mean full restrictions kick-in.

Parts of North Otago are extremely dry, with the area receiving a third of the historical average rainfall since August.

“For us down here, it’s much, much drier than in 2012-13. Some are saying it’s the driest it’s been in ten years, so the restrictions will bite even harder,” says Elizabeth Soal.

While the Hawke’s Bay is dry, Hawke’s Bay Regional Council Group Manager Resource Management Iain Maxwell, says that’s not unexpected for the region at this time of the year and irrigation water availability is being maintained.

“River flows are holding well and there are no irrigation bans on the main rivers so farmers are still able to irrigate,” he says.

Drought is costly in financial and human terms. It also degrades water quality, threatens water life and can lead to soil erosion.

Drought is a fact of life for farming on the east coast but the consequences of it would be minimised with more storage to capture the excess at times of high flow for use for farming and maintaining minimum flows in water ways during droughts.


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.


Rural round-up

October 31, 2013

Irrigation benefits all clear – Andrew Ashton:

The benefits North Otago communities continue to receive from local irrigation schemes have been highlighted to two Government Ministers.

The Waitaki Irrigators Collective (WIC) yesterday invited Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy and Associate Primary Industries Minister Jo Goodhew to tour irrigation schemes across North Otago, and Mr Guy said the tour, which took in farms and irrigation schemes between Weston and Glenavy, had reinforced the ”huge benefits” of irrigation to North Otago. . . .

Another benefit to the area would be if New Zealand’s sharpest town, #gigatownoamaru becomes the Southern Hemisphere’s first #gigatown.

– Allan Barber:

When Eoin Garden retires as Silver Fern Farms’ chairman at the AGM in December, both cooperatives will have had a change at the top within three months of each other. So the big question is whether this will make any difference to the way they operate: will there be a significant change of culture and leadership from the top or will it be much the same as before?

The Meat Industry Excellence Group is obviously hopeful of getting its preferred directors elected to the SFF board with Richard Young, MIE’s chairman until recently, and Poverty Bay farmer Dan Jex-Blake resigning from MIE to stand for election in their respective wards.

There is also one MIE aligned candidate standing for the Alliance board, long time supplier Don Morrison, although Fonterra director John Monaghan was keen to stand, but was rejected by the Alliance board under the terms of the company’s constitution. MIE chairman John McCarthy says “this is a real slap in the face for Alliance shareholders” who want to see change and in his opinion “is typical of what’s wrong with the meat industry.” . . .

Irrigation progress welcomed in Otago and Rangitikei:

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy is welcoming new investment of $750,000 into irrigation projects in Central Otago, and $100,000 in the Rangitikei, coming from the Government’s Irrigation Acceleration Fund (IAF).

“There is major unrealised potential across the country for further irrigation development, and these two projects will help unlock that.

“This is about creating jobs and exports, particularly in provincial New Zealand. It will play a major part in realising the Government’s goal of doubling primary sector exports by 2025.”

The Central Otago funding will go towards backing the next stage of the Manuherikia Catchment Strategic Water Study. . .

Scientists redesigning orchards to increase fruit production:

Research that will literally shed more light on fruit trees could revolutionise the way crops such as apples are grown.

Plant and Food Research scientists are investigating new orchard planting systems, putting to the test the theory that trees and vines that receive more light could produce a lot more fruit.

Research leader Stuart Tustin says it could mean completely changing the way orchards are designed to allow more light to reach the trees’ canopies. . .

Dr Nigel Perry wins NZIC prize:

Plant & Food Research’s Dr. Nigel Perry has been awarded the 2013 New Zealand Institute of Chemistry Prize for Industrial and Applied Chemistry. Dr Perry was recognised for his focus on the discovery and development of biologically active natural products.

With his colleagues in Plant & Food Research and the Chemistry Dept of the University of Otago, he has combined fundamental chemistry knowledge with a drive to establish practical applications. Nigel works with medical and agricultural researchers, Māori groups, and New Zealand and international companies.

He is an inventor on six patents, including one on an insect attractant now in commercial use around the world. Much of this work is documented in confidential technical reports to clients, but he has also published many papers on applied chemistry, on three main themes: . . .

New funding for plant science:

Plant & Food Research has received funding for two projects in the latest Marsden fund which will study how plants grow and adapt, fundamental science that will ultimately inform future crop breeding and growing practices.

One of the projects will investigate how ancient plant ancestors may have adapted to an environment with high UV radiation, providing better understanding of how plants may respond to future climate change.

“The emergence of plants onto land was one of Earth’s major evolutionary events, but at that time the environment had a number of challenges, including high levels of damaging UV radiation,” says Dr Kevin Davies. “Our research will look at liverworts, the closest living relative of the first land plants, and study how these plants adapt the production of pigment molecules to counteract the effects of UV. This will, in turn, provide some understanding of how plants may adapt and respond to shifts in environmental conditions as a result of predicted global climate change.” . . .

Wakatipu partnership to target wilding pines:

A partnership between DOC, the Queenstown Lakes District Council, LINZ and the local community aims to clear thousands of hectares of wilding pines in the Wakatipu Basin over the next five years, Conservation Minister Dr Nick Smith says.

“Wilding pines are a significant risk to the natural ecology of the Wakatipu Basin. This partnership is about stepping up the efforts to control these tree weeds and protect the landscapes that make Queenstown such an iconic visitor destination,” Dr Smith told a meeting of the Wakatipu Wilding Conifer Control Group (WCG) in Queenstown this evening.

“This project illustrates the benefits of DOC’s new focus on partnering with others to deliver conservation gains. These tree weeds are as much of a problem on private and council land as they are on public conservation land. It makes sense that we have a co-ordinated effort to control their spread, maximise the use of new technology, and work together to roll back the infestation,” he says. . .


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