Irrigation New Zealand has lodged an appeal against new Environment Canterbury irrigation rules it says are unachievable and which could affect the viability of farming in Canterbury.
It is estimated that irrigation contributes over $5 billion to New Zealand’s economy. Around 65% of the irrigated land in New Zealand is in Canterbury and this equates to around 500,000 hectares.
“The benefits of irrigation don’t just accrue to farmers, they are distributed to the community through the demand for goods and services that more productive farms create. What’s at stake with this plan change is the ability of irrigation to continue to contribute to Canterbury’s economy into the future. Take away irrigation from our region and it would result in job losses and a very big economic gap to fill,” says Irrigation New Zealand Chief Executive Andrew Curtis.
The challenge relates to the interpretation of what good irrigation management practice means regarding the amount and timing of water application under Environment Canterbury’s recently adopted Plan Change 5.
“The Plan Change interprets this to mean that there is no leaching or run-off from each irrigation application. In technical terms we refer to this as 100% application efficiency,” says Mr Curtis.
“We will be appealing the Plan Change as it is inconsistent with the accepted industry interpretation of good management practice which is that there is 80% application efficiency of water used for irrigation. The 80% efficiency requirement has been adopted by Environment Canterbury in the operative Land and Water Regional Plan so the new changes are not consistent with existing rules and are confusing for farmers,” he adds.
Mr Curtis says that trying to achieve compliance with the new rules could require that farmers must invest in expensive new irrigation equipment which may be unaffortable and even if newer equipment was installed the targets would still be unachievable for many farms.
“There are very few businesses who can say they are 100% efficient, 100% of the time, and farms are no different. It’s very disheartening for farmers who have invested in more modern irrigation equipment and training with the goal of meeting the 80% efficiency requirements of the recently adopted Land and Water Regional Plan to find they are operating in an environment where regulations are continually changing and unrealistic targets are set that they can’t hope to achieve,” he adds.
Since 2011, $600 million has been spent by existing irrigators nationally to upgrade to modern, more efficient irrigation systems.
The appeal will argue that as well as being inconsistent with the irrigation efficiency rules in the operative Land and Water Regional Plan, the section 32 analysis completed on Plan Change 5 should have assessed the cost of trying to achieve the new 100% efficiency target, but did not.
Irrigation NZ has commissioned a report to quantify what the impact of the new Plan Change rules are likely to be.
“We don’t know how much it will cost to comply with the new rules but the investment in infrastructure required is likely to be significant with some farms being unable to meet these costs. We are hoping that a workable solution will be able to be achieved through the mediation process,” says Mr Curtis.
“We’re fully behind all irrigators moving to good practice – but good practice has to be achievable,” he adds.
For more information or further interview contact Andrew Curtis, CEO Irrigation New Zealand, on 027 496 6314
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