Irrigation New Zealand

Irrigation New Zealand restructures in response to sector’s needs

Media Statement – for immediate release

23 July 2020

Irrigation New Zealand is restructuring to put renewed focus on solving the tension between the fundamental need for irrigation in a post-COVID New Zealand, and the sector’s increasingly restricted licence to operate.

In addition, the loss of IrrigationNZ’s flagship conference due to lockdown meant the organisation experienced significant financial loss creating reason to review, reset and refocus. 

As such, the Board of IrrigationNZ has restructured the organisation to reflect a new two-pronged approach to focus on advocacy at a national level, as well as deliver value ‘on the ground’ in the regions. The following changes have been made:

● IrrigationNZ will move its headquarters to Wellington, the heart of national decision making, and will hire a new chief executive to lead the organisation from the capital city.

● IrrigationNZ has established a new role, Regional Policy and Planning Manager, to assist members, regional councils and other local authorities and stakeholders on matters of policy as it affects irrigation, water, and the primary sector ‘on the ground’ across rural regions.

● Elizabeth Soal, the current chief executive of IrrigationNZ, has opted to take on this exciting new regional role.

● Elizabeth will remain as chief executive until after the 2020 General Election, and will next week issue an election manifesto on behalf of the organisation.

    Commenting on the changes, Keri Johnston, chair of IrrigationNZ said: “As a nation we are embarking on the recovery phase of Covid-19 and the dependability of irrigated production systems will be central to this. Access to a reliable water supply is critical to all communities.

    “Yet, the general misunderstanding of the benefits and positive impacts of irrigation persist. Continued and often unbalanced messages strongly influence both central and local government in setting policy direction. 

    “Irrigators are greatly concerned that their freedom to operate and ability to continue contributing to the wellbeing and economy of New Zealand is being threatened.

    “The irrigation sector acknowledges that there are both real and perceived impacts of intensive farming on water quality. Many irrigators take a proactive approach to improving environmental outcomes, including implementing audited Farm Environment Plans, and proactively monitor water quality.  They also work with Councils and the local community to improve water quality. 

    “The sector is well down a path towards good management practice and is committed to not only achieve, but better this goal. This will ensure our food and fibre production remains in demand globally whilst capturing local community support and further developing pride in our primary industries.

    “Irrigation is a critical component of a vibrant and environmentally sustainable agricultural and horticultural economy and we will work hard towards ensuring that irrigation remains an integral part of a healthy and thriving Aotearoa New Zealand.

    “An important part of the organisational changes is about being best positioned  to articulate on behalf of, and advocate for, an industry not well understood - and one that is rarely given the benefit of the doubt - across all levels of government, business and non-governmental organisations.

    “We are confident about this renewed focus and are excited about the opportunities for the sector, and our rural regions where irrigation is such a cornerstone.

    “We thank all of our staff, members and stakeholders for their work and support,” concluded Ms Johnston.


    Further comment:

    Chair, IrrigationNZ, Keri Johnson, 027 220 2425,

    Further information

    IrrigationNZ Regional Policy and Planning Manager:

    The new position of Regional Policy and Planning Manager is a significant role and has been created to enable IrrigationNZ to represent and support its members' interests in impending regional planning changes following the roll-out of new freshwater regulations and amendments to the RMA. This role will assist members ‘on the ground’ to understand these important changes, undertake advocacy and policy work at the regional level, support the chief executive’s national advocacy work by providing regional perspectives into national policy development, and will also work with stakeholders around developing regionally-led water infrastructure solutions. Elizabeth Soal will be based in her home-town of Oamaru but will move between regions.

    Benefits of irrigation:

    ● Irrigation unlocks value for the benefit of all communities

    ● Irrigation reduces variability in quality across production systems

    ● Efficiency of land-use can be achieved with irrigation

    ● Responsibly-managed irrigation can lead to improved environmental outcomes. Water application can be measured, timed and managed to meet plant and crop requirements. Soil development and environmental habitat enhancement also result from irrigation. 

    ● Irrigation is a critical component for a resilient export-dependent nation.

      IrrigationNZ strategy:

      IrrigationNZ will be guided by a refreshed strategy which will:

      ● Advocate for irrigation as core to a healthy and thriving Aotearoa New Zealand.

      ● Support the industry’s wise use and management of water for resilient and responsible food and fibre production.

      ● Continue to develop clear, recognised and unambiguous standards for irrigation to ensure efficient, effective and equitable water use and work to ensure widespread adoption of the standards.

      ● Access and articulate both economic and scientific evidence in order to educate decision-makers and the public and to provide a counterpoint to those arguments made by irrigation opponents that are not supported by data or scientific studies.

      ● Engage and communicate transparently with existing and potential members, stakeholders, and the wider community. It is important to tackle the unbalanced pressure on the industry for the good of all communities.

        Background on IrrigationNZ:

        We are a not-for-profit national-level organisation that represents around 3500 members across the irrigation sector, including irrigation schemes, individual farmer-irrigators, and the irrigation service sector. We support the critical role our members play in producing sustainable food and fibre for a healthy and thriving Aotearoa New Zealand. Irrigating farmers represent 800,000 hectares of New Zealand (seven percent of farmland) and directly contribute an estimated $5.4bn to GDP (20 percent of total agricultural and horticultural contribution). Irrigation schemes represent the largest number of water consents in agriculture and horticulture.

        IrrigationNZ Board members:

        Keri Johnston, Ivan Knauf, Robyn Wells, Jared Ross, Randal Hanrahan, Andrew Rodwell and Andrew Barton