Irrigation New Zealand

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14th February 2018

It’s been a busy time for many Selwyn farms over the past few months. After a record breaking dry spell in late 2017, we received some welcome rain in January.  In conditions like these, irrigation is really important both for farmers and rural communities but also for our food supply. Most commercial fruit and vegetables, wine, grain and some of our meat and dairy products are grown with irrigation which helps to reduce price spikes or food shortages when we don’t get enough rain.

Along with the business of producing food, local farms are deep into environmental matters at the moment. 900 Selwyn farms need to obtain a land use consent to farm, with just over 500 farms having already prepared Farm Environment Plans.

The Selwyn Te Waihora catchment has some of the strictest farming rules in Canterbury. Consents are required if farms are above a certain nitrogen discharge level or are in some designated areas.  The new rules require farms to significantly reduce their nitrogen losses – for example dairy farms need to reduce their nitrogen leaching by 30% by 2022. Nitrogen levels in groundwater will improve over time as a result of the changes introduced now.

Groundwater extraction in Selwyn is also expected to reduce from September when farms on stage two of Central Plains Water (CPW) switch from using groundwater to alpine water. This is also expected to result in improved flows in groundwater fed streams like the Selwyn River. CPW’s consent was granted some time ago. New groundwater irrigation consents are prohibited under the new rules.

Farmers applying for consents to farm need to meet a number of requirements, with the preparation of farm environment plans being a key requirement.  Those who use irrigation have their water metered and monitored and need to be using soil moisture monitoring tools to ensure water is only applied when needed.

Farmers need to map their farms to identify features which need protection like native planting or waterways which need to be fenced off from stock. Phosphate and nitrogen losses must be recorded, and actions put in place to reduce these losses over time.  Farmers also need to minimise erosion and make sure any effluent is managed according to regional council rules.

Each farm will have their environment plan audited by an independent auditor who reports the results back to Environment Canterbury. It’s not a one-off process but an ongoing one with regular audits carried out in the future. No doubt some farms will do very well, while others will need to lift their game.  The aim is to achieve continuous improvement and over time standards will be lifted so what was acceptable in 2018 won’t be in 2025.

This is a new process so it hasn’t been easy for farmers to know where to start. If you’ve put the hard work in to develop your plan – well done! You now have a roadmap in place to sustainable farming which will benefit everyone.

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