Irrigator repair tensions rise as land dries out

17:59, Nov 28 2013
With twisted irrigator parts laying on the ground, a repair crew works on a damaged centre pivot near Methven.
REPAIR WORK: With twisted irrigator parts laying on the ground, a repair crew works on a damaged centre pivot near Methven.

Most of the irrigators twisted and buckled by the big September windstorm are expected to be straightened out by the end of next month, but tensions remain as soils dry out.

About 50 to 80 per cent of the 800-plus irrigators put out of action on Canterbury farms are in serviceable shape and this is expected to rise to 90 per cent by Christmas.

Those farmers without fully operating irrigators remain under pressure despite some relief earlier this week from light rain. A reasonably wet spring turned this month, with northwesterly winds and high temperatures browning off growth.

Federated Farmers North Canterbury president Lynda Murchison said the rain was probably "too late and not enough" for irrigating farmers.

"There has not been much of anything from the end of October and very hot with these nor'westers and if you are dependent on irrigation to grow all this grass and feed that stock need, then once we go three weeks without we have to think of contingency plans and they will have lost some of that grass growth."

Hopefully farmers have been able to make do with partly repaired centre pivots, she said.


Farmers had received good information about how long it would take to make repairs, she said.

"I haven't heard of people with major disruptions or major issues so I'm taking from that people have made contingency plans."

Murchison said the rain had been timely for dryland farmers trying to get lambs away and raise baleage crops.

"We were about to cut our lucerne ourselves and we can leave it for two to three weeks to get more growth. For any dryland farmers, any rain at this time of the year is most welcome."

Irrigation New Zealand chief executive Andrew Curtis said rain earlier this week would give only light relief for farmers waiting for irrigator repairs.

"It will help a bit, but the reality is we haven't had that much rain from what I can see. It's been only gently steady rain and at this time of the year we get temperatures in the mid-20s. The rate plants use water is greater and they will use 4.5-plus millimetres a day, so if we had 20mm of rain that's only giving just under four days before they hit stress again."

The amount of rain falling was less, with 9mm recorded on Monday overnight at Rakaia and 8mm at Darfield.

Curtis said cropping farmers would be worried because for every 1mm of water stress there was a similar reduction in plant yield and this could not be recouped during the rest of the season. This was a critical time for arable farmers, with many crops starting to flower to set seed. Pastoral farms grow less grass without good water and farmers have to substitute feed or lose cow performance.

"There is definitely tension out there and it's the nature of things getting dry and we are losing yield and bringing in feed and that hurts," said Curtis. "We still reckon by Christmas 90 per cent of irrigators will be fixed with some dribs and drabs [afterwards]."

He said irrigation repairs had been well co-ordinated overall with only a few "horror stories" to be expected from a major event like the wind storm. Delays are mainly for centre pivot corner arms and more specialist parts.

Murchison said the large windstorm reinforced the need for farmers to assess the vulnerability of their operations.

Dairy farmers would be looking at wiring milking sheds for generator backup even if they did not own generators, she said. After the wind storm generators were made available; however, some sheds were unable to take them as they were not wired.

The Press