Changes ahead for irrigators

by Andrew Curtis

With the holiday break and post-election negotiations over, the new government is now settling down to business.

IrrigationNZ attended a Land and Water Forum meeting with Ministers David Parker and Damian O’Connor and, along with other primary sector partners, met with the Prime Minister in February.

From these sessions, we have some indication of the new government’s priorities.

One of their key focuses is on climate change. Of course this has implications for agriculture, especially for dairy farming, but also sheep, cattle and other farming models. Federated Farmers and other primary sector bodies will be involved in future discussions around what is proposed and how this will affect farmers.

The focus on climate change is likely to create a need for irrigators to look at reducing power usage. 

Shifting to gravity-based irrigation systems or more power efficient systems is something a number of Canterbury irrigation schemes have been investing in recent years. The power savings pay off over the longer term.

In the future, it’s likely that irrigators will be looking more closely at using renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind power to fund pumping.

The new government’s desire to improve water quality has been clearly stated since the election. In this area, Canterbury is well ahead of other regions and is leading the way.

Farm environment plans provide a tool for farms to record and manage their nutrient discharge, with targets being set requiring that discharge levels reduce over time.

The introduction of farm environment plans is still in its infancy. We are still working through how these are developed, implemented and used effectively to improve environmental outcomes.

While some benefits are already occurring as a result of the plans being introduced, most of the improvements to waterways, which will occur as a result of these changes, are still yet to come. 

But we have a framework in place, which will bring future benefits. 

Improvements in how we use and apply irrigation, also often have associated improvements for nutrient management.

Our irrigation testing programme in Ashburton and Selwyn showed that most farmers are now using soil moisture probes.

Having the data to know when and where water is needed allows more precise water application, which helps reduce excessive nutrient leaching.

The government also wants to encourage a move towards high value, sustainable land use. We are already seeing a move fowards new mixed farming models.

This approach has benefits — for example, it allows farmers to choose crops, which will help reduce nitrogen leaching.

In many of these areas, there is a need for more research on the environmental impacts and benefits of new and existing practices.

Farmers want the same outcomes other New Zealanders want — to have a clean environment and strong communities. More practical tools to help achieve are needed.

We are now looking forward to our IrrigationNZ Conference in Alexandra from April 17-19.

It will feature a showcase of new irrigation technology, as well as a range of international and local speakers talking about the issues irrigators are facing and how we can address these. Hopefully, we’ll get some more solutions to the challenges farmers are facing.

To find out more about the conference and register visit irrigationnz.co.nz.