Land and Water Forum member IrrigationNZ says it supports the recommendations put forward by the Forum on how to improve water quality in its report to the Government today, but that nutrient allocation decisions need to occur at a catchment level.
“We support the Forum’s focus on prioritising action in at-risk catchments and their recommendations on the importance of implementing good farming practice on farms and good management practice in urban areas,” says Andrew Curtis of IrrigationNZ.
“We see the fastest gains in improvements to water quality being made through the implementation of good farming practice on all farms. This approach has already been successful in the Horizons Region where nearly 700 Farm Environment Plans have been adopted and waterways have recorded improvements over the past ten years.”
“There is already a lot of work occurring on farm to improve waterways. For example a 2017 survey of 120 of our irrigator members indicated that 74% had fenced off waterways and around half have undertaken riparian planting or biodiversity enhancement work,” says Mr Curtis.
Most irrigators either have Farm Environment Plans in place or are now developing these, as over 60 percent of irrigators operate in Canterbury where the plans are a requirement.
IrrigationNZ has carried out irrigation testing on around 300 irrigation systems which identified that significant improvements in irrigation efficiency and nutrient management can be made by providing farmers and growers with education, testing opportunities and support.
New technology also has a key role to play. An example of how new irrigation techniques can lead to better outcomes was a recent study carried out by Professor Richard McDowell on an Otago farm where the introduction of precision irrigation technology was able to reduce nitrogen leaching on the farm by 80%.
“Decisions about nutrient allocation need to be made at a catchment level as there is a huge diversity in farming practices, climate and landscapes in New Zealand,” says Mr Curtis. “The approach taken in a hill country area with high rainfall may not be appropriate in a pastoral or horticultural environment.”
“The discussion about nutrient allocation needs to consider the existing investment made by farmers, opportunities available to other landowners, community expectations and the need to protect waterways. These decisions will be difficult and are best made locally and will need to involve discussion and consultation which is informed by science and an understanding of catchment specific issues,” he adds.
“We are pleased the government has invited the Land and Water Forum to provide advice on this issue. IrrigationNZ has participated in discussions and we support the majority view of the Forum,” Mr Curtis adds.