Irrigation schemes are well-placed to facilitate improved farming practices, Judith Neilson says.
Speaking at the Irrigation New Zealand conference in Oamaru, the Morven Glenavy Ikawai Irrigation Company (MGI) environmental manager said farm plans and audits would help with meeting new nutrient limits.
Resource consent for the Waihao Downs irrigation scheme, a wholly owned MGI subsidiary that was officially opened in April, included environmental monitoring and a scheme management plan, with farm environment plans (FEPs) required from each irrigator, Ms Neilson said.
An FEP template, updated from the successful one used by MGI, was approved by Environment Canterbury, she said.
The Waihao Downs irrigators, mostly on hill country, faced a “unique challenge”.
“There was no experience among the farmers of irrigation and how the land might respond”.
Taking the scheme from vision to reality had entailed “educating shareholders alongside changing, uncertain, increasingly challenging regulations”.
The FEPs would be fully reviewed, the farmers having already submitted irrigation design plans for an independent audit, Ms Neilson said.
“Nutrient management is one of the greatest challenges.
“It’s a sobering realisation for many that nutrient levels could determine the viability of current and future land use.”
Developing practical and manageable records was vital to coping with a growing administrative burden, she said. The “burgeoning cost of compliance” would be a major factor in the future.
“Becoming irrigated is much more than an investment. You have to understand the physical environment and the regulatory environment.”
While that was a “positive change”, it would become much harder if it was undermined by regulations disconnected from practical farm management, Ms Neilson said.
“The processes need to practically engage and support farmers.”
MGI was setting up an environmental fund and expected it to be open to applications from next year.