IrrigationNZ says that supporting the uptake of new farming practices and technology will help improve waterways, while water storage will be key to land diversification.
“We agree with Environment Minister David Parker’s recent comments that new technologies and farming diversification will be important to build a more sustainable future for New Zealand,” says IrrigationNZ Chief Executive Andrew Curtis.
“We also want to see further improvements to waterways,” says Mr Curtis. “Many irrigators are already working to meet the nutrient discharge requirements the government plans to implement across New Zealand.”
Canterbury and some parts of Hawkes Bay and Otago are some of the areas where farm environment plans are already required. These plans require nutrient discharge reductions and water use efficiency.
“There are a range of new tools to help farmers reduce their impact on waterways like eco plantain, and fertigation. Adopting practices like variable rate irrigation and modern spray irrigation have also been shown to have a significant reduction in reducing run off into waterways,” says Mr Curtis.
“With a range of options available to farmers to reduce their environmental impacts on waterways, education and testing to help farmers pilot new technology and adapt it to suit their needs will be important to successfully shift to new ways of farming,” Mr Curtis says.
IrrigationNZ has to date trained 3,000 irrigators on water efficiency. It has recently embarked on a project to identify barriers adopting good management practice for irrigation, and develop solutions with farmers and the irrigation service industry. Good management practice improves water use efficiency and reduces nutrient discharge through more precise application of water. From interviews with around 200 farmers and irrigation service industry professionals the main barriers are currently:
- a lack of after-sale support for farmers to operate new irrigation technology
- uncertainty around what good practice requires and few trusted independent advisors being available, and
- uncertainty about future regulations can be a barrier to investing in more efficient irrigation systems and technology.
Mr Curtis says that access to water will also be critical if the government wants to encourage the expansion of high value horticulture.
“Horticultural crops require very precise applications of water at specific times. Climate change is already changing weather patterns and rainfall is becoming less reliable – we saw this over summer when many regions went for weeks with minimal rain. Water storage and irrigation is really critical for fruit and vegetable production,” he adds.