Water storage is the green answer to food shortages


HorticultureNZ says drought is threatening food supply:

Water is vital for plants and trees to grow and New Zealand needs to better mitigate droughts that threaten our domestic supply of fresh fruit and vegetables, Horticulture New Zealand chief executive Mike Chapman says.

“The dry conditions we have seen through early summer are putting fruit and vegetable growers under pressure to the point where some are having to make decisions about which plants and trees they may not be able to plant or harvest, and which may need to be left to die as scarce water supply is used to keep other plants alive,” Chapman says.

“No water means plants die and as a result, fresh fruit and vegetables are unavailable and prices go up because demand is higher than supply.

“Relying on water to fall from the sky simply isn’t enough. HortNZ believes we should be more proactive in capturing and storing that water to ensure sustainability of supply during times of drought.

“The best way to ensure adequate water supply to irrigate fruit and vegetable plants is to store water in dams. Dams also benefit streams and rivers by reducing flood risk and keeping flows up during dry periods, which protects aquatic life.

“There are benefits to every New Zealander from having a reliable water supply. But there are inconsistent policies across central and local government when it comes to water, land use, preparing for climate change goals, and community needs. We believe these should be looked at holistically.

“On the one hand the government wants a  Zero Carbon Act and to plant one billion more trees, but on the other hand, local authorities are increasingly putting pressure on water supplies, limiting water access for irrigation to grow food. There needs to be a wider national approach to these issues and support and recognition for regions that are addressing them as communities.

“For example, Horticulture New Zealand supports the Waimea Dam in the Tasman District and the proposal for it to be a joint venture with the territorial authorities. This is because there are broad community benefits from the dam in an area that is growing in population, and therefore, has a greater need for water supply for people as well as plants.

“The benefits of the dam include water for food security and primary production, security of water supply for urban water users, improved ecosystem health of the Waimea River, recreational benefits, regional economy benefits, business development and expansion, and more jobs.

“The Waimea Dam is the answer to everyone’s water needs in the district.”

Horticulture New Zealand’s submission on the Waimea Dam proposal for governance and funding can be found here

The emotive anti-farming green lobby paints irrigation as bad for the environment but it can be, and often is, good.

Irrigation is like precision rainfall – applied where and when it’s needed.

Storing excess water in times of flood and high river flows to use when there’s not enough rain ticks the economic, environmental and social boxes.

It ensures minimum flows can be maintained to protect water life, it allows plant growth to protect soil from erosion, it provides secure jobs and enables food to be grown during droughts.

Without irrigation farmers and horticulturists are at the mercy of the weather. When it’s dry they produce less food and as the supply drops the price increases which hits the poorest hardest.

There’s irony that many of those opposed to irrigation which enables the growth of fruit and vegetables are often the ones making the most noise about growing obesity.

More irrigation enables the production of food including fruit and vegetables which ought to form the basis of every-day diets. Without irrigation these foods become more expensive leaving the poor no choice but to purchase cheaper, less nutritious and more energy-dense food.

The anti-farming lobby must remove their blinkers and open their minds to the fact that water storage is the green answer to the problems of food shortages, poor diets and soil and water degradation.


How much water does it take?


I have no idea if these figures are correct.

Regardless of that, the issue isn’t necessarily how much water it takes to make something, but how much water is available when it’s needed and able to be used in a sustainable way.

In New Zealand we generally have plenty of water.

Anyone trying to enjoy a summer holiday, make hay, shear, harvest fruit and vegetables or do anything else which is better with fine weather would say we’re having too much.

Our problem is that we don’t always have the amount of water we want in the right place at the right time.

One solution to that is water storage – taking water when there’s too much and keeping it to use when there’s not enough.

Prevent, reverse and/or prepare?


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded there’s a 95% certainty climate change is human-induced.

There are several possible responses to that including work to prevent or reverse it, panic and/or preparing for it.

New Zealand contributes such a tiny amount to global emissions there’s little we can do to prevent or reverse it, but Climate Change Minister Tim Groser said we’re doing our bit:

. . . “New Zealand has been an active participant in the IPCC process. It is important that we contribute as addressing climate change demands collective action, and it keeps our scientists and officials up to date with the latest in climate science. This assists policy development and decision making at home.

As well as making an important contribution to the IPCC scientific process, New Zealand is playing its part to achieve fair and binding international rules around greenhouse gas emissions.

“New Zealand actively participates in international climate change negotiations and supports collective, collaborative action. We recently convened and hosted an informal dialogue to inject some fresh thinking into negotiations to replace the Kyoto Protocol, by the end of 2015.

“New Zealand is committed to doing our fair share without imposing excess costs on households and businesses, while the Government focuses on jobs and strengthening our recovery,” says Mr Groser.

“The Government recently made an unconditional commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to five per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, and maintains a conditional commitment to a reduction target range of 10% to 20% below 1990 levels.

“We have implemented the Emissions Trading Scheme, we are making progress towards our 90% renewable electricity target, and have launched the Global Research Alliance, committing $45 million to research ways to grow more food without growing greenhouse gas emissions.”

As well as playing our part in prevention and reversal we need to prepare for the consequences should the forecast effects eventuate.

One way to prepare for the increased heat and droughts which are predicted is irrigation some of which requires water storage.

Federated Farmers vice president William Rolleston has been calling for more water storage systems for some time.

He says the Opuha dam in Canterbury has proven to be effective in times of dry weather, and more opportunities for water storage around the country need to be sought.

Dr Rolleston says the discussion around a proposal by Hawke’s Bay Regional Council to build the Ruataniwha dam needs to continue and the dam could be positive for the economy and the environment.

The Ruataniwha dam is controversial, because of concerns it could lead to an intensification of farming, with nutrient run-off potentially proving toxic for the Tukituki River and its fish species.

But Dr Rolleston says climate implications need to be considered.

He says farmers need to prepare, and water storage systems, like the Ruataniwha dam, could help mitigate extremes of climate.

Dr Rolleston says like the Opuha dam, the Ruataniwha dam could prove effective in times of dry weather.

While New Zealand has plenty of water, he says it’s not always in the right place at the right time.

“Certainly in South Canterbury we’ve had the Opuha dam for some years and it’s proven to be a real bonus for both the economy and the environment and we need to be aware that water storage can have a positive effect on both.”

Dr Rolleston says discussions about the Ruataniwha dam need to continue.

Ironically  the people who are most vociferous about climate change and adamant we must do something about it are often the ones who are most vehemently opposed to irrigation and the water storage which enables more of it.

They fail to see the benefits which aren’t just economic but environmental and social too.

Whether or not climate change eventuates as forecast, droughts have always been with us and will continue to occur.

Water storage can insure against that and should be pursued where at all possible, with the necessary safeguards to ensure that increasing the quantity of water available doesn’t compromise the quality.

Drought confirms need for water storage


Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy says the drought affecting much of New Zealand emphasises the need for irrigation projects to store and distribute water.

After speaking to drought-affected farmers on the West Coast and the Central North Island this week, Mr Guy said water drives New Zealand’s economy just as much as minerals in Australia.

“We don’t have a shortage of water or rainfall in this country, we just don’t have the capacity to store and use that water in dry times. We currently use for irrigation less than two percent of the water that lands on New Zealand.

“Done properly, storage and irrigation schemes can help to better allocate water to benefit both the economy and environment.

“If current proposals are advanced there could be another 420,000 hectares of irrigated land available over time. Research from NZIER suggests exports could be boosted by $4 billion a year by 2026, which would support thousands of new jobs.

“This is why the Government is investing $80 million this year into a new Crown company to act as a bridging investor for irrigation projects. This will involve short term, minority investments to help kick-start regional projects.

“In total, the Government has signalled plans to invest up to $400 million in regional-scale schemes to encourage third-party capital investment. The Government is also supporting development of suitable projects to the prospectus-ready stage through the Irrigation Acceleration Fund.

“Projects will only succeed if they are committed to good industry practice that promotes efficient water use and environmental management, particularly around land-use intensification. Irrigation projects could potentially improve the flow of some rivers in dry summer months.

“After the summer we’ve had, no one can dispute the importance of storing and managing our water better. The impact of drought has been felt right across New Zealand but irrigation projects could make a real difference in the future,” says Mr Guy.

While much of the country is struggling with drought and irrigation restrictions on many rivers, the Opuha Irrigation Scheme proves the value of water storage:

Opuha Water chief executive Tony McCormick said yesterday Lake Opuha was 55 per cent full with a 100 per cent of irrigators still being supplied by the Opuha scheme. . .

“Considering the drought that is prevailing over New Zealand we are one of the few [irrigation schemes] still able to supply 100 per cent of our irrigators.

“This is the benefits of storage – if we were reliant on the river, it would be a completely different story. The river would be under a third of what it is at the moment, if we didn’t have storage.”

We have some storage on our farm. We pump water from the Kakanui River and underground over winter and use if for irrigation in summer.

The dark green think rivers should be left to flow from the mountains to the sea. But if you accept some use of the water is acceptable, taking it when rivers are at high flow and storing it for use when it’s dry is the best way to do it.

It provides not just environmental and economic benefits, the storage lakes like that created by the Opuha dam also provide recreational opportunities for swimming, boating and fishing.


Farming will adapt


The wailing and gnashing of teeth about New Zealand’s response to climate change is generally motivated by politics rather than environmental concerns.

Anyone who thinks that beggaring our economy to reduce greenhouse gases will make any significant impact on the climate doesn’t understand the numbers.

Our emissions are tiny by world standards and most come from animals which provide protein, the bulk of which is exported.

If we reduce our contribution to feeding the world, farmers in other countries will fill the gap and almost certainly do so in a less efficient and environmentally sustainable way than we do it here.

While the wailers and gnashers are getting political, others, like Federated Farmers’ President Bruce Wills,  are being practical.

As the climate has always changed there are negatives, yes, but many positives too. A more Mediterranean climate may bring new pests and diseases but it will also see off many cold climate ailments too.  

Take Northland, which by the end of this century, could end up with a climate similar to that found in southern Queensland. 

For livestock farmers that will see what they farm and even genetic lines tailored to regional climates.

It may mean commercial crops of soybean, sorghum and potentially rice may become possible.

From reading I even understand everything from mangoes to Thai galangalginger is found in Northland.  Among these and other tropical fruit could be the next ‘Chinese gooseberry’ breakthrough.  It is not beyond the realm of fantasy that even Oil Palm could one day become viable. 

My point is that farming will continue but its nature will evolve and adapt.  We must be open-minded about the possibilities and ensure we have all the tools in place to turn challenges into opportunities.

Take the engine room of any farm; its pasture and crops. We are already seeing a renaissance in deep-rooted Lucerne championed by farmer Doug Avery.

You can add to that drought tolerant crops of chicory, plantain and not to mention deciduous trees like poplars and willows. New cultivars of drought-resistant pasture will also come forward as we add new tools to our toolbox.

Our farm pastures are also a significant if unheralded environmental tool. 

They are arguably our best means of keeping nutrients on-farm and out of water yet it needs three things to flourish; high soil temperatures, long sunshine hours and water. . .

He points out we have tow of these three, but need more of the third.

The Opuha Dam has effectively drought-proofed a large swathe of South Canterbury.

Opuha has been lauded by Labour and National politicians. Even Dr Russel Norman seemed impressed when Federated Farmers hosted him there several years ago. It provides water for farms, an environment for aquatic life, a place to recreate and minimum flows to the formerly summer dry Opihi River.

Economically, it has exceeded all expectations but it also opened back in 1998 and remains our sole example of modern water storage.

For intensive cropping, dairy and horticulture, the benefits of irrigation are self-evident.  Yet much irrigation is dependent upon groundwater or river takes and both are affected by drought or just summer.

Capturing and storing water during winter frees irrigators from river takes and groundwater.

Yet water storage is also a breakthrough for drystock farming too. Irrigating even 20 hectares of a farm becomes a pasture generator reducing that climatic lottery we currently have. 

According to the ANZ Bank the current drought has already cost New Zealand over a billion dollars. Irrigation NZ estimates this sum, if invested in water storage projects, could future proof Canterbury for the next 100 years.

Like Irrigation NZ, Federated believes the solution lies in a combination of regional and on-farm water storage.

Farmers are smart adaptive people but as our climate will change, isn’t it smarter for public policy to enable the solutions we will all need to meet it?

Is it a coincidence that the same people who don’t think we’re doing enough to combat climate change are often the ones who are likely to oppose water storage which is one of the best ways to adapt to it?

Or is it proof that they are more focussed on political problems than practical solutions?

Water storage makes sense and cents


The real summer weather holiday makers are enjoying isn’t quite as good for farmers trying to grow pasture and crops.

In year’s gone by the prolonged dry spell in North Otago would have cut farm production and income with the consequent impact on people and businesses who serviced and supplied farmers.

Those on dry land farms will be finding it tough but there’s now sufficient critical mass of irrigation to keep up production on many farms.

However, there is potential for more irrigation with water sotrage which makes sense and cents.

Federated Farmers president Bruce Willis says:

This shows why our push for water storage infrastructure has been heeded by Government. It will provide New Zealand’s farm system with a means to store rainfall when it’s plentiful, a bit like the way water is stored by our towns and cities.

If you want an economic argument for why water storage makes sense, go no further than November’s Overseas Merchandise Trade statistics. These trade statistics came out of a fairly benign winter and spring.

In the  year to last November, the agricultural sector accounted for six of the top-ten physical exports. However, in terms of export dollars, the sector accounted for 80 percent of the top-ten; around $25 billion out of $31 billion.

“When we talk agriculture we include all the work done inside and outside the farmgate. That means our farms and factories generated almost 68 percent of New Zealand’s physical export dollars. Out of our top 40 export commodities, agriculture’s share was 71 percent.

This is not just a dairy story as meat and forestry all turned in double digit growth too. Wool is now just below $800 million for the year to November and that’s up 31.5 percent on last year.

“Equally impressive are less glamorous but valuable exports like leather as well as animal and vegetable fats. Both recorded year-on-year increases well over 20 percent highlighting that the agriculture sector as a whole is delivering what New Zealand needs.

“This export performance given the current rain, or lack of it down south, underscores why water storage is an economic no-brainer. Water storage is all about future proofing.

That performance is good. With more water storage it could be even better and play an even bigger role in economic growth.

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