West Melton water expert recognised with award

by Anonymous Author

A West Melton man, who is one of New Zealand’s foremost experts in water management and irrigation, has been recognised with an award from IrrigationNZ.

Dr Terry Heiler, whose career has spanned 50 years and has seen him working in more than 20 countries — is now retired and lives near West Melton.

Dr Heiler, was born in Australia and gained a civil engineering degree at the University of New South Wales. In 1967, he arrived in New Zealand. 

He initially worked for the NZ Agricultural Engineering Institute where he built a team of soil and water researchers. In 1982, he was appointed director of the institute. It worked to introduce new irrigation technology to New Zealand like drip irrigation, and pioneer new computer-based design methods for storing flood run-off for irrigation.

In 1990, Dr Heiler established his own consultancy firm — specialising in natural resources. He carried out a range of local and international work for both public and private sector clients.

Dr Heiler also led the establishment of Lincoln International Ltd — a business enterprise tasked with marketing the research resources of Lincoln University and the wider agricultural community in the

Lincoln area to international aid and development projects.

He has also served on the Landcare Research Board, and as chairman of WoolPro, Eco-link and Tectra and on the regional committee of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy.

He led Lincoln University’s expansion into commercial research and development, transforming a number of organisations into LinLink, establishing Lincoln Ventures (now known as Lincoln Agritech Ltd). Dr Heiler left the university in 1993 to focus on international consultancy projects.

In 2006, he was appointed chief executive of Irrigation New Zealand. At the time he joined IrrigationNZ — farmers, schemes and water user groups had no overarching organisation.

“The government and regional councils wanted to talk to one organisation about water policy issues — so there was a need for a national representative organisation. It also seemed clear that there was going to be more need to engage with scientific and environmental groups and IrrigationNZ allowed this to happen,” Dr Heiler said.

In 2013, Dr Heiler was awarded the Bledisloe Medal by Lincoln University. This award recognises those who have made an outstanding contribution to their chosen field of expertise, advanced New Zealand’s interests, or brought credit to Lincoln University.

Dr Heiler said that in most areas of the world sorting out water allocation can be very complex — as rivers cross international borders.

“This means that New Zealand is much better placed to manage water than most other countries, however, we are still struggling to resolve many issues in the economic and environmental space.

“Irrigation in New Zealand is much more advanced than in many other countries. Because our agricultural sector is exposed to the market, farmers are used to trying out new technology to help them do things more efficiently,” he said.

“They want to learn how to improve their operations. The interest farmers have in new technology, training and seeing what their neighbours are up to never ceases to amaze me.”