Irrigation has had some great wins in 2015. But developing infrastructure is a slow moving beast and primary production in many parts of the country will suffer yet another dry summer without the certainty water storage could bring.

Great strides have been made in policy direction. But concerns still remain around how farmers will practically manage their nutrient run-off, mitigate other environmental impacts on-farm and then still be expected to afford access to reliable water for irrigation.

The fourth Land and Water Forum Report, released in November, includes recommendations that make the case for central funding of environmental infrastructure such as water storage and wetlands.

This means freshwater can be captured for environmental benefits such as managed aquifer recharge and augmenting rivers in dry seasons.

This captured water can also relieve problems of over-allocation to farmers and provide efficient water for new users.

The report recommends greater flexibility regarding transferability of water consents so that water in dry seasons is not wasted and can be transferred to where it is most needed.

Suggested amendments to the Resource Management Act (RMA) will also help streamline the consent process and give more weight to national direction and collaborative processes for scheme development.

This should result in less costly and lengthy processes to allow for farmers to access water, and for the development of community-driven water storage projects.

The government’s 30 Year Infrastructure Plan, announced this year, includes irrigation as part of the foundations for a prosperous New Zealand and recognises more needs to be done to ensure economic and social benefits are maximised while still protecting the environment.

Significant work has done on the irrigation component of the OVERSEER model, which allows farmers to better understand their nutrient losses and analyse how their irrigation management influences this.

Progress in both islands

After much debacle and debate, a construction timeline has been tabled for Ruataniwha in the Hawke’s Bay now that it has sufficient farmer uptake and interest from investors.

Nicky Hyslop web

Nicky Hyslop chairwoman of Irrigation New Zealand

The Wairarapa Water Users Project is moving ahead through its feasibility stage, investigating possible sites in detail alongside the level of farmer demand, both now and into the future.

In the South Island, Central Plains Water opened Stage 1 this year, bringing water to the first 20,000ha of dairy, cropping and sheep and beef land between the Rakaia and Waimakariri Rivers; and consent was granted for the Waimea Dam in Tasman to go ahead.

Scheme development has been bolstered by the 2015 budget allocation of $25 million of new funding to the Irrigation Acceleration Fund - which helps kick start irrigation projects with seed funding.

As an organisation, Irrigation New Zealand continues to support a rapidly developing industry by providing education and assistance to members. We have run 16 Irrigation Manger workshops in 2015 with over 300 attendees.

These have a focus on efficient water application for water, nutrient and energy savings. The biennial conference and expo in 2016 event will have the theme of "Irrigation - Grow with the Flow; Food, Jobs, Environment and Play."

Some headline conference topics are "How irrigators are dealing with new requirements for increased irrigation and nutrient use efficiency" and "Does the opportunity exist to sell Kiwi irrigation knowledge to the world?"

The inaugural industry snapshot (pdf) shows what irrigated land is producing and what the outlook and challenges are for the industry.

Similarly, in preparation for yet another dry summer in the South Island, the SMART Irrigation campaign shares with home gardeners and community irrigation projects ways to apply water efficiently.

Nicky Hyslop is chairwoman of Irrigation New Zealand

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