Government $90m boost for irrigation to produce economic and environment gains
Both the economy and the environment are being promoted as the big winners from a government injection of $90 million in irrigation schemes.
Grants of $26.7 million over the next three years will match community funding of regional scale irrigation schemes, helping them progress to the construction stage. Another $63m of new capital funding will support investment in the building of irrigation infrastructure.
Minister of Primary Industries Nathan Guy said the investment would deliver economic and environmental benefits through better use of water. "A reliable water supply for growers and farmers has major potential to boost economic growth, creating jobs and exports in the regions," said Guy. "At the same time these schemes can deliver real environmental benefits by maintaining river flows and recharging groundwater aquifers."
Guy said the importance of water storage had been reinforced over the last few years with severe droughts in the east coast of the South Island and Northland. Extra funding would help develop new private sector schemes which would reduce the impacts of droughts on rural communities.
Guy says new irrigation schemes must meet stringent environmental tests. "It's important to note that any new developments or conversions must farm within environmental limits set by regional and local councils."
The funding will be administered by Crown Irrigations Investment Limited (CIIL).
"Capital investments made by CIIL are usually in the form of secured loans, as in the case of the Central Plains Water Scheme where CIIL invested $6.5 million in the first stage – since repaid – and is now investing $65 million in stage two," said Guy.
He said CIIL's role was to be an "early-in, early-out" investor to kick-start projects that otherwise would not get off the ground.
The New Zealand Institute of Economic Research has found that irrigation contributes $2.2 billion to the national economy and has potential to increase this further.
Identified projects likely to need investment include the Waimea community dam near Nelson, Flaxbourne community Water Project, Hunter Downs Water and the Hurunui water project. Irrigation would support land uses including horticulture, sheep, beef and arable as well as urban water supply.
Guy said the Government was committed to improving waterway quality while maintaining the livelihood of regional communities.
Federated Farmers environment spokesman Chris Allen said further Government investment for irrigation projects was a powerful stimulant for re-energising provincial New Zealand.
"This is great news for rural communities and will provide access to significant social and economic benefits."
He said scheme investment would take pressure off water resources when they were scarce especially during droughts and dry spells.
Combining smart technology with more sophisticated water scheduling would ensure nutrients did not leave the root zone of plants and reduce their loss to the environment, he said.
"Precise agriculture is increasingly being adopted by irrigators, which allows for the exact measurement of crop and pasture needs, where water and nutrient can be accurately applied to meet plant requirements."
Horticulture New Zealand chief executive Mike Chapman said extra irrigation funding was an important step on the road towards lasting food security and protecting water.
IrrigationNZ chief executive Andrew Curtis said sustainable irrigated agriculture was New Zealand's future and underpinned many provincial economies on the east coast.
He said another $2 to $3 of wealth was created in the community of irrigators for every $1 they earned with irrigation contributing more than $5.4 billion to the national economy each year.