Rangitikei Strategic Water Use Project

April 2016

A project set up by consultant Greg Carlyon to look at water use in the Rangitikei district

Pencoed is a reasonably small farm with 210 effective hectares. Approximately 100 hectares is planted in maize grain each year to supply a poultry farm in Foxton.

They grow around 30 hectares of cereal, a mix of wheat and barley for the dairy industry. The remaining area is in grass and used for finishing lambs and cattle;   lambs normally from December to October and cattle between October to December.

The farming policy is reasonably flexible so they can take advantage of different markets, for example if the dairy payout is up, cattle finishing may not happen and grass silage is grown instead.

Brendon Williams is the third generation to be farming on this property. His grandfather started with 65 hectares. Brendan’s father added to the farm twice, and in 2000 Brendan and his wife had the opportunity to add to it again by purchasing a small neighbouring dairy farm and converting it.

With limited land area their focus is on maximising production. This is why they were keen to get involved in the strategic water assessment, to see if irrigation could be used to lift their production to the next level.

Pencoed is part of a $200,000 Rangitikei Strategic Water Assessment project. The project is a district-wide water management study funded by Rangitikei District Council and the Ministry for Primary Industries and was run by Greg Carlyon and his company Catalyst Group.

The key was smarter use of water. Any changes would have to suit the communities using the water and anything done would also have to fall within the restrictions of Horizons Regional Council’s One Plan. There was also a desire to make sure that any proposed development protected the Rangitikei River, which was subject to a national Water Conservation Order.

The first stage was to find out exactly how much water was available, in rivers and streams and in underground aquifers.

More work is still needed on the groundwater resource, but initial studies indicated there are vast seams of water available, as deep as 600m underground.

The next stage was to research how land use could change with irrigation and how much extra money that could bring into the district. It is estimated that in the south there could be new crops, subdivision into smaller farms and intensification, with reliable stock water in the north.

The final piece for Stage One is case studies about irrigated land and talking to farmers about barriers to irrigation.

Greg Carlyon says there is lots of opportunity for sustainable increases to production. Better efficiency would get more productivity out of the same amount of water and higher-value crops could reap more rewards from using it.

Possibilities varied across the three main landforms of Rangitikei. At the coast was sand country, where water and nutrients leach through the sand quickly.

It had the most ambitious farmers, many going into dairy farming and using large amounts of water out of underground aquifers. One had permission to take 30,000m3 of water a day, more than the city of Palmerston North used. Some spent up to $10,000 a week on electricity to pump the water spread by huge pivot irrigators.

Farms could meet their environmental obligations by sharing nutrient leaching limits across properties, and retiring wetland areas to soak up excess nutrient. Shared water storage was another possibility.

On Pencoed there was intensive investigation of the cost and viability of developing irrigation.

Greg Carlyon, stresses that “any proposal to accelerate smart water in the district has to be sustainable and consistent with the community values placed on the Rangitikei River.”