From the Country section of the Northern Advocate (29 December 2016), an article written by Winston Peters, Leader New Zealand First Parliamentary Party:
Official views of the potential benefits of irrigation for Northland’s agricultural economy appear to conflict, with Northland MP and NZ First leader Winston Peters supporting a report predicting major expansion in earnings from fruit, vegetables and pastoral farming if regional water storage and distribution were increased.
Mr Peters says the Tai Tokerau Northland Economic Growth Study in February last year claimed Northland topography did not allow for large-scale storage or irrigation schemes.
And the word “irrigation” appeared only four times in the Tai Tokerau Northland Economic Action Plan launched by three Government ministers early this year.
“Everyone who lives here knows we have plentiful rain,” Mr Peters said.
“Yet we can go from feast to famine quickly, as testified by four droughts over the past eight years.”
He praised the Northland Strategic Irrigation Infrastructure Study, completed in December last year with finance from the Ministry for Primary Industries Irrigation Acceleration Fund.
“This seems to be one of those rare things – public money well spent,” Mr Peters said.
Only 1.3per cent or 7795ha of the 608,121ha of farmland in Northland is irrigated.
The infrastructure study showed there was potential to irrigate 15per cent of the region’s farmland – about 91,000ha – which Northland Regional Council economist Darryl Jones suggested could contribute up to $247million more each year to the Northland economy and generate 3400 fulltime jobs.
“This plays to our strengths and represents the kind of go-forward and foresight we need,” Mr Peters said.
“Would anyone want to pour cold water on that sort of potential? Yes, there are some.
Even before the initial study began they were opposed.
“These same people seriously jumped the gun on Havelock North’s water quality crisis by blaming farming. They have been silent since charges were laid against the Hawke’s Bay District Council for what seems to be poor borehead security.”
NZ First wished to emulate the Scandinavian approach where the environment and farming, both land and the sea, were not mutually exclusive.
The irrigation infrastructure study saw potential to increase Northland’s subtropical fruit production from 2000ha to about 14,000ha, expand vegetable production 12-fold from 400ha to about 5000ha and add 68,200ha of irrigated pastoral farming land to the 4800ha now being irrigated.
“For our regional economy this is potentially very big, so what happens next?”
Crown Irrigation Investments had committed $165,000 to scope the next stage of irrigation scheme options in Northland.
“These findings will give our Northland community plenty to discuss before any final decisions are made,” Mr Peters said.
“If the community is on board and it stacks up economically and environmentally, then NZ First will look to secure from government the capital needed to make it a reality.”