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Opuha Dam report shows impressive results

22nd September 2006

Opuha Dam report shows impressive results

Minister of Agriculture, Jim Anderton released the report on the Opuha Dam today, which analyses the impacts of the dam build in 1999 on the provincial economy. The study was commissioned and funded while he was Minister of Economic Development, to gauge the productivity gains from irrigation on previously dry land farming. "Over the period of the study," Jim Anderton said, "agriculture has grown at about twice the rate of the rest of the economy."

"The impact study shows irrigation has made a major contribution to the growth of agriculture in Canterbury, and while it all cannot be attributed to irrigation, it certainly has added to it. It has meant changes to farm systems – from dryland sheep and crop to irrigated sheep, irrigated dairy farms and irrigated cropping. Cropping systems have intensified and moved to higher value, higher yielding crops, for example dryland process peas to irrigated process potatoes," Jim Anderton said.

"The survey farms were 50 per cent irrigated on average, but the farms with irrigated land had been able to intensify the dryland portion of their farms. This had resulted in less need to farm conservatively in case of drought, and a greater ability to reinvest in the farm because of the extra profitability of irrigated farming generating more money.

"The irrigation had substantial flow-on effects for the South Canterbury community with increased business confidence, increased processing activity, improved utilisation of processing plant and increased activity at the Timaru port. The new onion processing plant and a better spread of kill to local meat works were examples of this.

"Viability of farming in the whole district was improved with dryland farmers in the area benefiting from greater competition for livestock and feed," Jim Anderton said, "and 30 per cent of dryland farmers surveyed reported direct interaction with irrigated properties."

"The study evaluated two “normal” seasons. If a drought year had been included it is likely the benefits from irrigation would have been even greater. The study is consistent with much earlier ex-post evaluation of irrigation schemes including the lower Waitaki and the Amuri schemes which were both shown to have initial slow uptake but eventually generated very high returns for the farmers and the community.

"The Mayors of Canterbury have identified irrigation as one of the major development opportunities in the region and have commissioned the Canterbury Strategic Water Study to determine future options for the region in pursuing irrigation.

"Stage one of this project identified that there was plenty of water for irrigation and other interests but only if some water storage infrastructure was developed which would store above average flows and release them in dry periods and when rivers are naturally lower. The potential to irrigate most of the suitable land in Canterbury could then be realised.

"The Study shows the value of pursuing these options and the potential payoff to both farmers and the region of developments such as this. It notes the flow on effect of irrigation on the community with more employment and younger families associated with irrigation and an overall improvement in optimism and the social capital of the region," Jim Anderton concluded in Christchurch today at the launch of the report.


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