'We as farmers need to take some responsibility' - industry reviewing irrigation methods after criticism

Farmers are looking into new ways of managing irrigation in light of ongoing criticism of the industry.

This month the government announced it was pulling its support from several irrigation schemes including the Hurunui water project, as well as those in Flaxbourne, Malborough and Hunter Downs near Timaru.

Irrigation New Zealand's biennial conference this week attracted more than 400 representatives including local and regional councils, farmers, experts, and environmentalists, all wanting to discuss the industry's future.  

"We as farmers need to take some responsibility and accountability for that and lead the charge of cleaning up our own environment," said James Dicey from Mount Difficulty Wines.

The conference was all about developing new ways of working, with a key focus on the role technology can play in improving the industry's environmental footprint.

"We need to really make sure we encourage those innovative thinkers and get them out there to share their story," said Nicky Hyslop, Irrigation NZ chair.

"They often lead the way and they lead change."

Mount Difficulty Wines is a leader in sustainable wine-making. They compost all their grape waste and reuse their wastewater to grow more than 14,000 native plants in the last eight years.

"We need to be aware of what we're irrigating, why we're doing it and only giving what's required," said Dicey.

According to international water expert, Dr. Stuart Styles, in global terms we're pushing ahead. In New Zealand 85 per cent of farmers have changed to pressurised irrigation systems, which use water more more efficiently than those previously used.

"In California we still have almost 40 per cent that have surface irrigations," said Dr. Styles, professor at Cal Poly State University. "So we have a long way to go in that arena for efficiency on farms."

Another focus of the conference was changing the perception of irrigation. While it's often associated with dairy farming, that's not its only use.

At Central Otago's historic Bendigo Station their focus has predominantly been on producing merino wool. However, through irrigation they've been able to turn their masses of rabbit infested-land into vineyards.

"It's transformed all our lower country, all our pastoral country," said John Perriam, owner of Bendigo Station.

With water from the Clutha River, they're also building a shared water storage reservoir for the vineyards and new fruit orchards.

"It's really now developing into a new Garden of Eden here in Central Otago," said Perriam.

Farmers are hoping smarter and more efficient water use could help clean up the environment, and their image.

More than 400 representatives gathered at Irrigation NZ's conference this week to discuss the industry's future. Source: 1 NEWS