Bruce Wills says it is vital we store water for irrigation and use in dry periods. Stored water preserves rivers and groundwater resources. Your view?

Bruce Wills says it is vital we store water for irrigation and use in dry periods. Stored water preserves rivers and groundwater resources. Your view?
Opuha Dam, South Canterbury

By Bruce Wills*

While I may occasionally raise an eyebrow at what climate change scientist Dr Jim Salinger says, his message that the climate will change is sound.

Our climate changes because we live on a dynamic planet.

That is why I find the categorisation of ‘denier’ occasionally hurled at farmers to be somewhat strange.

Farmers are fastidious weather record keepers with detailed records going back to before some of the official records.

Farmers also work outdoors and depend on the outdoors for our livelihood; farmers, if anything, are weather obsessives.

Another thing the word ‘denier’ presupposes is that we deny the Ice Age and that is ridiculous.

In our solar system there are several planets with relatively unchanging climates like Mars and if there’s life there, it is not as we know it.

One Sunday paper recently ran the headline that this drought is “the most severe in history.”

Undeniably this drought is one for the history books but is it worse than the drought of 1982-83?

Thirty-years ago drought gripped not only the North Island but Australia too and this Trans-Tasman drought remains one of the most destructive in Australian history.  

In some weather related irony, my Federated Farmers Board colleague, Katie Milne, recently flew to Australia for a demonstration of farm equipment but that was rained off.  She subsequently turned around and returned to a drought afflicted West Coast.

Back in 2003, Dr Salinger was quoted as saying, "it’s getting more tropical as the temperature goes up".  The focus of much climate change discussion has been towards the more apocalyptic extreme.

As the climate has always changed there are negatives, yes, but many positives too. A more Mediterranean climate may bring new pests and diseases but it will also see off many cold climate ailments too.  

Take Northland, which by the end of this century, could end up with a climate similar to that found in southern Queensland. 

For livestock farmers that will see what they farm and even genetic lines tailored to regional climates.

It may mean commercial crops of soybean, sorghum and potentially rice may become possible.

From reading I even understand everything from mangoes to Thai galangalginger is found in Northland.  Among these and other tropical fruit could be the next ‘Chinese gooseberry’ breakthrough.  It is not beyond the realm of fantasy that even Oil Palm could one day become viable. 

My point is that farming will continue but its nature will evolve and adapt.  We must be open-minded about the possibilities and ensure we have all the tools in place to turn challenges into opportunities.

Take the engine room of any farm; its pasture and crops. We are already seeing a renaissance in deep-rooted Lucerne championed by farmer Doug Avery.

You can add to that drought tolerant crops of chicory, plantain and not to mention deciduous trees like poplars and willows. New cultivars of drought-resistant pasture will also come forward as we add new tools to our toolbox.

Our farm pastures are also a significant if unheralded environmental tool. 

They are arguably our best means of keeping nutrients on-farm and out of water yet it needs three things to flourish; high soil temperatures, long sunshine hours and water.

Right now we have two of those elements but lack the vital third; water.  Even when the drought does break it will be three to six weeks before pasture responds and that takes us perilously close to winter.

Even then much of it will need to be renewed but water, I think we can all agree, is vital to an economy whose secret recipe is “just add water.”

The Opuha Dam has effectively drought-proofed a large swathe of South Canterbury.

Opuha has been lauded by Labour and National politicians. Even Dr Russel Norman seemed impressed when Federated Farmers hosted him there several years ago. It provides water for farms, an environment for aquatic life, a place to recreate and minimum flows to the formerly summer dry Opihi River.

Economically, it has exceeded all expectations but it also opened back in 1998 and remains our sole example of modern water storage.

For intensive cropping, dairy and horticulture, the benefits of irrigation are self-evident.  Yet much irrigation is dependent upon groundwater or river takes and both are affected by drought or just summer.

Capturing and storing water during winter frees irrigators from river takes and groundwater.

Yet water storage is also a breakthrough for drystock farming too. Irrigating even 20 hectares of a farm becomes a pasture generator reducing that climatic lottery we currently have. 

According to the ANZ Bank the current drought has already cost New Zealand over a billion dollars. Irrigation NZ estimates this sum, if invested in water storage projects, could future proof Canterbury for the next 100 years.

Like Irrigation NZ, Federated believes the solution lies in a combination of regional and on-farm water storage.

Farmers are smart adaptive people but as our climate will change, isn't it smarter for public policy to enable the solutions we will all need to meet it?


Bruce Wills is the President of Federated Farmers. You can contact him here »

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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Dairy has all our water used already, no way can the country sustain the extra water needed. Sheep never used this amount of our water...

I notice that you have ommitted to mention who should pay for these farm irrigation schemes.

The Office of the Auditor General Opuha Dam Report is comprehensive in all points of interest - including funding if the template still fits

"I notice that you have ommitted to mention who should pay for these farm irrigation schemes."
Easy:  The taxpayer.
And don't you dare mention any suggestion of a property tax or capital gains tax that might tax the beneficiaries of that largesse, as a quid pro quo! 

So Bruce is a CC denier.
Nothing like making your thoughts justify your actions/income.
Of course it IS happening, but it's not my fault. Yeah right.
But the biggest joke of all, is that FF and indeed all F's, are in a bigger poo, by far.
Fed Farmers biggest Achilles Heel is Fossil Fuel dependency.  Of course, that will be someone else's fault too, watch for the request for handouts - presumably diesel subsidies.
And they're at the water-limits now, in many places. Are there any water-tables in NZ not depleting and/or degrading?

Fed Farmers biggest Achilles Heel is Fossil Fuel dependency.
Well it's also the biggest Achilles Heel (and a serious credibility issue in my opinion) for the climate science conglomerate. Can you imagine the energy used to get all these scientists from one place to another in the world to 'gather' and then 'collaborate on' this evidence/expertise. 
When the UN and IPCC business (and it is big business for sure) starts measuring its own carbon footprint and changes its operational ways - acknowledging that their present globe trotting lifestyle is enormously contributing to the problem - then perhaps the farmers of this world will make some sacrifices of their own. 
Meantime for the UN and the IPCC and the farmers - its BAU.

No, Kate. That's blame-shift too.
As are comments by the likes of Jim Mora, re Al Gore and his lifestyle.
Until all folk rein their consumption in, someone else just takes up the slack. If it wasn't the scientists flying, it would be someone else. They are at least attempting to warn, which is a better use than most, if not all, others.
Tragedy of the Commons, writ large. Hardin used farmers as an example......

What's wrong with Jim Mora's comments regarding Al Gore's lifestyle ?
...... Gore personally uses more atoms and energy than a small city of people in the Philippines do !
The hypocritical  hero of the climate change brigade  ...... gor blimey !

And Mother Teresa said if you can't feed a village, feed just one person. 
Think of all the food we could put on airplanes - if scientists stopped travelling.
Seriously though, do you really think the IPCC should carry on?  What value might they add to actually changing the future? I think they've done a pretty good job of giving us a wealth of future scenarios - now we have to adapt.
Which is what I think Bruce's article was about.

Is it farming practices or consumptive habits of the general population, that drives fossil fuel dependency pdk?

It is depressing, but not surprising, that a climate change denier should be the leader of Federated Farmers.
He and his ilk are going to find out that there are precious few benefits to climate change, however he might wish to fantasise about this. And I would much prefer it if my taxpayer dollars were not used to subsidise his industry via irrigation, whereas other industrial sectors are given no help whatsoever.

Andyh - the climate is always undergoing changes. May I suggest you try and get yourself to one of Lord Moncktons NZ tour speeches on climate change and the bad science behind it. In fact everyone should go and hear this man talk.

Spot on notaneconomist.  But please go wash your mouth out with soap for suggesting andyh and his ilk attend Lord Monckton's speech. ;-)  Andyh and his merry band will never consider there could be such a thing as ongoing climate changes - it is the farmers and only the farmers who can solve this problem! ;-) 

Go to a talk by Monckton? No thanks I will follow the science, not his misrepresentations of the science.

I'd just like to say good point Kate re above comment.
Also andyh, I agree, and ironically enough I pay FF subs. Water storage is a good idea if economically viable, as is making use of what rainfall we recieve. It would be nice if FF could somehow unify farmers, and make us realise we have strenght in numbers so as to realise what value there is in what we produce, instead of relying on the benevolence of andyh et al. taxes. However I suspect some of us are in others pockets.
If we are burning fossil fuel which constitutes 100s of millions of years carbon sequestration, of course there will be an impact on climate.

Omnologo you said: instead of relying on the benevolence of andyh et al. taxes
Well, I don't know about you, but I pay taxes too. What benevolence exactly do I receive from andyh's taxes.  Are you saying urban folk don't receive any benevolence from rural taxes??
Who is really driving irrigation - farmers, business or govt? Who really are going to be the  benficiaries?

Good points CO.
I would like FF to make more effort to galvanise farmers rather than explaining our predicament on our behalf to the critical population, in the hope of winning 'hearts and minds' (doesn't that phrase make you cringe?)

pdk and Andyh Bruce Wills says
his message that the climate will change is sound.
Our climate changes because we live on a dynamic planet.
Those are not words of a climate change denier.  Bruce accepts that climate changes.   Just because you may believe that there is one reason for it and Bruce another doesn't change the fact that both sides accept that the climate is changing. 
I have to chuckle when folks mention about farmers being in the poo etc due to fossil fuel depletion - it suggests that the rest of the population will be just fine and dandy.  That pdk, is the biggest joke of all. ;-)

Actually if you follow the way in which climate change denialism has morphed I think you will find Wills position is classic denialspeak. As the evidence is now overwhelming that climate is changing the most insidious of the denialist have had to change position subtly to avoid looking completely foolish. So the meme is no longer - 'man made climate change is not happening as there is NO climate change'. Instead it has been replaced by 'of course climate is changing (but man's activities have little or nothing to do with it).  Business can thus progress as usual, and no attempt need be made to decarbonise society.
Interestingly the phases of denialspeak we have gone through correspond very well with the Kubler Ross model of emotional changes when confronting a very unwelcome truth. So far in the denialist camp we have outright denial, followed by lots of anger - we now seem to be at the bargaining stage. Somehow we are going to 'adapt', it will be OK if we tinker around the edges, make a few changes. However, at the core of this is still absolute denial that it is the greenhouse gases that we are pumping out that are the cause of the shift in climate. Central to the belief system that the denialists are developing is the view that a 1 or 2C wont be too bad - there is absolutely no admission from this that this will spin out of control to a 5-6C change (there will be precious little adapting to that).


CO -  bollocks.
Andyh has it about right - they are sponsoring Monkton, but have to agree now that it's a happening thing. Just it's the planet at fault, not Brucie and Co. That's blame-shift. It's immature, it's selfish, and I for one am comfortable pasting the label where it fits.
Who says things will be fine and dandy? Nobody here. I've long posted that cities are in as big a trouble as the BigAg that feeds them. I demonstrate what is possible - it's the best one can do - but if folk are too ignorant, too arrogant, or both, to learn/acknowledge/change?
We have a choice - go for physical/biological sustainability, or watch our species go down in a slow but inexorable crash. I reckon it's worth giving it a heave. Which means I get a bit pissed at those who will not - for whatever reason - address the issues.
Who is sponsoring Monkton, at this late date, and why? Those who put selfish, short-term gain ahead of anything else.

but if folk are too ignorant, too arrogant, or both, to learn/acknowledge/change? Ah, so you are superior to anyone who dares to see things differently?
I get a bit pissed at those who will not - for whatever reason - address the issues.
Address the issues according to pdk viewpoints. Where I sit there are two differing viewpoints - I am happy to consider them both.  :-)

Also, we need to feed out Petrochemical exchange industry with fuel (Sorry farming!) or else we can't eat!
Farming, the process of turning Petrochemicals into Food, from memory it's about 6grams of Petrochemicals to 1 gram of food.
Can't really imagine big tractors running off batteries yet... so still need some form of liquid...

About 18grams is the figure and a nice turn of phrase btw.. Of course animal protein is significantly worse than plant based.

At what cost to get the water on to the farm kimy?  We had to get a load of water in recently $300. What purpose were you thinking of farmers using it for?

Ohhh, Bruce Willis of Federated Farmers, that makes more sense.  I wondered why a hollywood actor was interested in our water. 

I'm not sure why you all started discussing CC denial, Bruce seems to be implying that the climate does/will change and that we should all adapt as it does.  The point he's making is that water storage and dams like in South Canterbury should be replicated elsewhere.  Reading between the lines I would guess that he wants the government to pay for it. 

The point is that FF and most of the rest of the farming industry dont want anything to do with the idea of man made climate change (and they contribute mightily via bovine methane etc). However they would like the rest of us (via government taxation) to pick up the bill (via irrigation etc) to as they now phrase it 'adapt to a changing climate'.
Translates as "we will do nothing to change our ways (as we deny our activities are contributing to the problem in any way), but can the rest of you serfs pay to help us out of the spot of bother we seem to be getting in'.

oh, andyh, your prejudice against farmers is showing boldly. 
In January 2013 the Government initiated the establishment of a new company that will manage funding for equity investment in construction of regional-scale schemes. The Crown will be a minority partner investing on commercial terms.
This from Auckland Water sources: Environmental impact on the river is minimal because the water is abstracted just before it goes into the Tasman Sea. When there are low river levels, less than one percent of the river's volume will be needed. It is a drought resistant source that is not dependent upon rainfall, unlike the dams. lol!
So it's ok for Auckland to use water this way, but when farmers want to use it exactly the same way it's 'climate change denying'??  There would have been government assistance with setting up the Auckland water infrastructure, which farmer taxes would have contributed to, but when the boot is on the other foot, it's not ok?
But while most of the North Island is being asked to conserve water, Aucklanders are not facing restrictions because their water levels are being topped up by the Waikato River.
A spokeswoman for Watercare Services said they were maximising use of the Waikato River. Usually the river provides about 20 per cent of the metropolitan water supply - or 125 million litres a day - but that level was being exceeded at the moment. (At no penalty I presume unlike if a farmer exceeds their take.)
"We do always ask people to use water wisely as a matter of course."
The Waikato River levels were at a reasonable level and would never run dry, she said.
"We only kind of skim the top of it - there is a huge volume of water."
If the farming community had the above attitudes - never run dry - there would be an outcry from the urbanites.  Farmers are being restricted in the water they can take along the Waikato river - one would have to query that, when one sees the above comment. So it could be said that they are subsidising Auckland Water. :-)

I think you are confusing me with someone who has an interest in Aukland. I don't. Other than the fact that the people running the city (and most of the populace) have the same head in the sand attitude as FF do when it comes to issues such as climate change and resource depletion.

Interesting in that there is no water left in the Waikato River  to allocate to drought stricken farmers as it is all allocated.
Auckland City has a right to the Waikato River Water that is equivalent to at least the daily requirement to irrigate 1429ha of productive Waikato Farm Land - which user is most productive I ask?
We as a country need to get proactive and think about building efficient water storage so we can all survive. 
NOt only does Auckland take all of our water but they are now telling us we as farmers have no further rights to subdivide our land as they want to keep the "greenfields" around Auckland nice and green - the simple fact is that theyve shut the gate after the horse has bolted - there are few if any economic farms left in the Auckland region, why not expand the urban limits as any farms left outside them are really just a big lifestyle block that earns nothing.

As a farmer I have no problem with not taking river water, not storing water in dams, not using fertiliser, using much less diesel in the tractor, de stocking the farm, paying whatever fees & taxes you care to impose on my animals or land, in fact I welcome it. The other side of the coin however is the cost of your meat is going to consume a huge portion of your income as all the above will reduce the stock or crops I can supply, but life will become much easierfor me with so little work and best of all the greenies and other ill informed twerps will have to be very very nice to me if you want a joint of Beef or Lamb, change to veges, sorry that requires even more water, fertilsers and herbicides so no need to join weighht watchers as you will lose weight naturally as you consume less calories and expend more walking or cycling about your daily business, bugger that has a downside as the improved health will extend the lifespan rro you to continue telling farmers how to farm when you probably wouldn't know the difference between Stag & a hedgehog.

Invest in Dams not houses
All for investment in Dams here in NZ. Strategic irrigation would be a great long term investment for our country, the potential is huge....imagine if people invested in the dams instead of housing a true investment long term.

Interesting facts on consented takes of Waikato River water.  Wonder how much of their water Landcorp is actually taking.  My sources tell me that they secured all 'surplus' water under EW Variation 6. Landcorps allocation is the second largest - bigger than Auckland.

Landcorp didn't secure the water, Wairakei Pastoral did. Landcorp lease the land from Wairakei Pastoral. According to EW employees, Wairakei Pastoral, and maybe a few other land owners with means, had lawyers in the Environment Court on the day the judge finialised Variation 6 legislation (I assume FF, Fonterra and maybe DairyNZ had people in court too), and immediately applied for resource consent to secure water. The Environment Court stipulated that consent was on first come first serve basis. The result is a few wealthy Auckland based landowners with the support of Landcorp get all the water they want while the rest are allocated a limit based on 2008 herd numbers.
Has anyone been to the Landcorp farms north of Taupo? Impressive in the sense no expenses speared, state of the art everything. Wairakei Pastoral have hit the jackpot.

Thanks for the clarification Onmologo.  I hear anyone who converted farms after 2008 have been told that they may not be allowed any water because Wairakei have nobbled it all?  You heard anything about that?

Seems that way. Water is to be allocated at 15m3 per title, but  I think that excludes stock drinking water. 15m3 roughly allows 200 cows to be milked, assuming water required for milking process to equate to 70 litres cow/day. Farms operating prior to 2008 have rights to apply for water equivalent to 70 litres/head as of peak stock as at Oct 2008.
Basically the government through the wisdom of the Environment Court, has given all water rights in the Waikato Catchment to a few select persons in Wairakei Pastoral et al. and Mighty River Power. I suspect farming is seen as in inefficient use of water.
The manner in which the Environment Court allocated what water was available on a first come first serve basis, defies belief, reflects poorly on the intelligence and ability of those in control of the environmental regulation system, and does not bode well for future generations.
It would have been nice if FF made us aware and mobilised us in advance to this travesty, and Fonterra stuck up for our rights instead of trying to win (manipulate) 'hearts and minds'.

We certainly need a few more standing on the shoulders of giants .

A mate at the sustainability meeting  in Sth Waikato said they were told that F spent/is spending  big$ on legal beagles representing farmers at an appeal - or was the Environment Court hearing you refer to the appeal?  We are lucky in Southland FF are rather active though possibly a little more than redneck at times.
Interesting attitude reflected today by another mate up that way 'Variation 6 doesn't really impact on me' so they aren't worried about it.  Not the right sort of attitude in my view. :-(

The issue isn't that dairy farmers need to be increasingly mindful and efficient with water use, it's that the privileged few get preferential rights. This is both unjust and incredibly inefficient, defeating the righteous purpose of such legislation in the first place.
I'm not holding my breath on Fs legal challenge, farmers are increasingly seen as mere suppliers, a means to generate profit, as oppossed to owners.

To be fair to Fonterra, they have been one of the critical supports for farmers in the Waituna with our issues with ES.  They don't always get it right but I can't fault them with the support they gave us, especially in the beginning.
I agree with you re the privileged few.

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