IrrigationNZ supports Minister of Regional Development Shane Jones’s announcement that regional economic development funding could support some water irrigation projects.
“Water infrastructure plays a vital role in creating resilient rural communities,” says IrrigationNZ Chief Executive Andrew Curtis. “Several New Zealand studies have shown that for every 1,000 hectares of irrigated land developed, 50 new jobs are created. At a local level the studies found that as well as job creation, community income levels and school rolls also rose.”
“Irrigation helps protects communities from the devastating effects of drought by enabling crop and pasture growth even when there is little rain. Irrigation is used to produce a really wide range of produce, including most domestic fruit and vegetables. With several weeks of low rainfall across much of the country, irrigation is currently helping ensure that New Zealanders have access to affordable produce,” he adds.
Mr Curtis says that many regions have recognised the role of irrigation in communities with Canterbury, Hawkes Bay, Northland and Bay of Plenty highlighting the development of irrigation as being important to their future in regional growth strategies.
Irrigation infrastructure is often multi-purpose and provides drinking water to Kerikeri, Oamaru and Timaru, with water from schemes also being used for recreation, by industry and for environmental purposes.
“Well managed, modern irrigation can be designed to provide environmental benefits,” says Mr Curtis.
In North Canterbury, a region which suffered four years of drought recently, Amuri Irrigation Company recently modernized its scheme infrastructure allowing it to irrigate almost 6,000 extra hectares using the same amount of water it has previously used. At the same time irrigators worked to reduce e.coli levels in the Pahau River, which was named New Zealand’s most improved river in November, with a 15.6% year on year reduction in E.coli levels over the past ten years. Nitrogen and phosphorus levels are also trending downwards due to the implementation of farm environment plans. The company has also established a community fund to support community activities.
Trials by the Foundation for Arable Research have found that cropping farms with irrigation leached less nitrogen than the equivalent dryland farms. On irrigated farms nutrients can be targeted to provide reliable plant growth which is not limited by soil moisture. Enhanced plant growth allows all nutrients to be used by plants, reducing the risk of leaching. Irrigation also promotes consistent ground cover (either crops or pasture) through the summer growing season, which reduces the risk of wind erosion of soil and surface sediment runoff. Sediment is a significant contaminant in waterways.
The recently released Our Atmosphere and Climate Report (Ministry for the Environment) also highlighted that soils expected to get drier and the frequency and intensity of droughts are expected to increase.
“The ability to store water for agriculture and for urban water supplies will become ever more vital to feed our growing population and enable communities to survive in challenging conditions in the future due to climate change,” says Mr Curtis.
Studies on the value of irrigation to districts are accessible online here.
Information on the studies on irrigation carried out by the Foundation for Arable Research are online here.
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