Irrigation New Zealand says water storage is the key to making New Zealand agriculture more drought-proof.
Chief executive Andrew Curtis says the drought has cost the country more than $1 billion so far and New Zealand can no longer carry the cost of a significant drought every five years.
He says even farmers and growers who have access to irrigation schemes are running into trouble during the dry spell as widespread water restrictions are imposed.
"For example down here in Canterbury we now have over 900 consents subject to either full or partial restrictions, we've worked out that's probably in the region of about 220,000 - 240,000 hectares of irrigation."
Mr Curtis says a reliable supply of irrigation is needed if it's to be of any use from an economic and environmental outcome perspective.
He says the answer lies with a combination of regional and on-farm water storage development.
Mr Curtis says Central Hawke's Bay's Ruataniwha plan is a good example of how a scheme can be given impetus.
That work showed that by irrigating just a percentage of a sheep and beef farm it's possible to dramatically improve its performance and make it far less subject to the boom and bust of a drought.