North Otago Irrigation Scheme

July 2013

Progress for the North Otago region since the Irrigation Company began in 2006

The North Otago Irrigation scheme was officially opened on 28th October 2006. Through a series of pump stations, canals, pipes and a natural waterway, the scheme delivers water to over 100 shareholders over 10,000 hectares of productive farmland.

The scheme delivers pressurised water right to the shareholder’s on-farm off-take.

North Otago is notoriously dry. For years local farmers had dreamed of irrigating their farms, but large scale access to reliable water didn’t get off the ground until the North Otago Irrigation Company Ltd (NOIC) came along in 2006 with a consent to tap water from the Waitaki River

The Waitaki District Council partnered with NOIC in 2006 to invest $10 million in the primary water delivery infrastructure of the scheme with a vision that a second 10,000 hectares of North Otago farmland could be brought into irrigation in the future.

In 2010 a study was commissioned by the Waitaki Development Board which showed the benefits of the scheme. It estimated gross revenue from the scheme area had increased by over 300% since the scheme was installed..

Cash farm expenditure has increased by a similar amount and collectively farmers have spent approximately $62M in land conversion costs.

The study also estimated that a further 76 extra labour units had been employed.

Along with economic sustainability, NOIC believes that to retain access to water long term, the company and its shareholders must be environmental stewards for future generations.

The North Otago Irrigation Company has been critically looking at how the water quality standards proposed by ORC’s Proposed Plan Change 6A to the Otago Water Plan could be met in a practical sense.

In 2012, NOIC won the Irrigation NZ innovation award for their environmental management programme. This included work on farm plans and work to improve environmental performance across the scheme. NOIC has also started running its own awards to reward farmers who are seen as good envrironmental stewards.

To win an excellence award, the farmers are required to go through an on-farm audit that looks at their irrigation, riparian, soils, nutrients and effluent management. CEO Robyn Wells says “We spend a large amount of time focusing on the negatives when it comes to environmental management. We have some very dedicated, hard-working farmers who put a lot of effort into environmental stewardship and we wanted to recognise those individuals as role models and say well-done.”

The scheme takes water from the Waitaki River, pumps it from Borton’s Pond (at the intake of the Lower Waitaki Irrigation Scheme) into a canal and then a second pump station lifts the water to the Head Pond. Three pumped side lines take water from the canal to the Duntroon Line, Glen Settlement & Tilverstowe Lines and to the Head Pond. From the Head Pond, a gravity line takes approximately two thirds of the 4 cumecs available down into the Waiareka Valley. A major attraction of this scheme is that the water is delivered under pressure to most farms.

Up to one cumec of water is consented to be delivered into the Waiareka Creek and this water is used by irrigators further down the creek. A condition of the resource consent was that NOIC puts an additional 100 litres per second into the Waiareka Creek to improve the habitat of the creek; this is a major environmental benefit for the district.

A share provides .4 litres per second per hectare, which is equivalent to 25mm per week. Water is delivered to the farmer’s property via an off take box which is part of the scheme infrastructure. This off take contains an isolating valve, a pressure reducing valve and a flow meter which regulates the pressure and the amount of water able to be delivered to individual properties.

In May 2012 the North Otago Irrigation Company announced that they had been awarded a $70,000 grant from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) Irrigation Acceleration Fund to co-fund the design and contract preparation of an 800 hectare expansion of the irrigation scheme. The company had to submit an extensive application that exhibited to MPI that the project adhered to good industry management practice and was expected to provide environmental, social and economic benefits.

CEO Robyn Wells was quoted in the press release as saying that the “ Tilverstowe Extension project is part of a staged programme of work that will eventually result in the full uptake of the 8,000 l/sec of water allocated to NOIC. The completion of this work, scheduled to deliver water by this spring, will take the area serviced by NOIC water to over 14,000 hectares and represents an important step forward in our stage 2 plans.”

Neil and Rose Sanderson bought their 80 ha dry land property with the expectation that it would be irrigated. It’s a good fit with to their 350 ha dry land nearby. The Sandersons are Stud Breeders with an Angus and a Charolais stud.

At the time, Stage One of the North Otago scheme was being developed and they were keen to buy shares, but missed out. However, they and 2 other properties were able to join a later extension to the scheme, with water coming on board in October 2009. They have 35 shares and water 55 ha of their 80 ha.

Neil and Rose are delighted with the results they are achieving with irrigation. They have increased their breeding herd from 170 cows to 200 cows and say they are achieving better results from their sales of stud sires, dairy sires and surplus stock. Their irrigated block is being used to grow the young stock to better weights and condition. Overall irrigation has meant:

• Having all breeding cows on the dry land block and increasing their numbers by 50 at the Five Forks property

• Running all bull calves from the dry land block from weaning to sale at the Ngapara irrigated block

• More bulls sold at their annual sale and better presented stock

• A significant reduction in culls (bulls and heifers) from 20-25% to 10%

• They are now totally self sufficient in supplement, which has made a huge

• difference to them

• Significant increase in pasture quality

• The ability to establish pasture in the spring and the opportunity to sow improved cultivars in the mix

• The prime-stock market is now an option and is being used to the business’s advantage

The Sandersons use two sets of K-Lines, one irrigating the lower areas of the farm (27ha) and the other irrigating the tops of the ridge (27ha). They have 15 lines on the top 27 ha and 12 lines on the bottom 27 ha. They apply at the rate of 50mm per day for half a day, and have a rotation length of 15-16 days. (Remembering that the water that’s delivered via the scheme is pressurised.)

At the time they planned introducing irrigation, they decided to irrigate as much as possible, even if it meant a higher capital cost for the infrastructure. They believe their decision to spread the shares over the 55 ha they irrigate was a good one. It has increased their flexibility in growing pasture and crop to meet their needs.

Neil and Rose say joining the scheme was a no brainer. They now have an irrigated property able to be diversified, should they or any subsequent landowner wish, into alternative land uses, such as dairy support and cropping.

They did not know too much about irrigation when they started, so they recommend using farm and irrigation consultants to provide advice. They say there’s great benefit in peace of mind and less stress when farming through dry periods.