Nelson Marlborough Farming - A dry year ahead

Columns
Monday, October 20, 2014

Soil moisture levels in Marlborough are already looking grim with the period from July to October heading towards one of the driest on record. While the region is not yet officially in drought, farmers will be looking at weather forecasts for any sign of rain.

Marlborough farmers are accustomed to farming through droughts but that doesn’t make it any easier to manage.

Irrigation is a great tool to mitigate against drought and there has been an increasing area under irrigation over the last few years. However many Marlborough irrigators rely on surface takes which require minimum flows which irrigators will be keeping an eye on.

The Flaxbourne community is considering its own irrigation scheme, which would raise land value and boost the community both socially and economically.

Irrigation is an opportunity to drought proof properties and therefore increases their value, benefiting individuals and the community as a whole. However, water storage is an issue. Only about 2 percent of rainfall in New Zealand is stored for irrigation use, and the severe droughts experienced in the last two years have underlined the importance of developing better water storage.

It is also important to look at opportunities to change pasture species. Doug Avery is a strong advocate of Lucerne, which has a superior drought tolerance in comparison to grass pastures. It has the ability to survive extended dry periods and bounce back quickly after rainfall. Looking at his example, the use of alternative plants such as this can revitalise pastures that are suffering from prolonged drought.

The National party understands the importance of these issues and the potential for social and economic development that effective irrigation and water storage presents. We are investing from the Future Investment Fund in carefully-targeted irrigation projects. The government has created Crown Irrigations Investment Ltd to make independent decisions on what projects to invest in.

Drought is a challenge that farmers have to meet, but with investment in well thought out irrigation and water storage schemes, we can make efforts to manage and improve on the issue.