3 Jan 2018

Fed Farmers urge govt to reconsider irrigation loans

2:15 pm on 3 January 2018

The new government is being urged not to follow through on its promise to cancel any new loans to irrigation schemes.

Opuha Dam, Canterbury, 25 February 2015

Opuha Dam Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

Its predecessor pledged $400 million from the sale of state assets towards helping schemes get off the ground as a way to boost economic growth, but all of that was about to end.

Picking up on discontent among voters over declining water quality, Labour campaigned on a water levy on farmers using irrigation and promised to wind up Crown Irrigation Investments, the company that was formed to provide bridging finance to irrigation schemes.

While its coalition agreement with New Zealand First had resulted in the water levy being placed on hold for now, Crown Irrigation would be put on ice once it had honoured its existing contracts.

That's something former Federated Farmers president, William Rolleston, believed was a mistake.

"They are going to pull the pin on that because irrigation equals cows. I think we're cutting our nose off to spite our face here. We need to look at all of the benefits."

Irrigation schemes such as the Opuha Dam had lifted the GDP of the Timaru district above the national average thanks to the dairy farms and crops it supported, he said.

And it wasn't just extra money the schemes were contributing.

"The Opuha dam has created recreational opportunities for boaters, it's created more flow in the Opihi River for fishing, it's allowed more water to flow down to Timaru for its domestic use."

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