Steve McKenzie Wairau Valley

March 2008
Steve MacKenzie is a crop and beef farmer with 350 ha near Wairau Valley township.

He is chairman of a trust is seeking to set up an irrigation scheme in the valley using water from the proposed TrustPower Hydro Scheme.

Steve says the issue of water for farmers in his area is very simply explained. He has a barley paddock which yields 10 tonne to the hectare under irrigation and 4 tonnes to the hectare without it.

Some time ago he and a number of other locals got together to establish a company to irrigate 5000 hectares of farmland in the Wairau Valley.

In the interim TrustPower has put in an application to build a hydro scheme on roughly the same stretch of river. In return, TrustPower has agreed to carry irrigation water in its canals for next to no cost.

The Wairau Valley Water Enhancement Company (WVWEC), of which Steve MacKenzie is chairman, already have got sign-off from the Environment Court for a right lasting five years, to extract water from the Wairau at 3.3m3/sec.

The irrigators will ride on the back of the hydro scheme if TrustPowers application is successful, otherwise the company will build its own canals, MacKenzie explains.

Members are reluctant to fork out about $800 per hectare to build a scheme when with TrustPower it could be done for less than $100.

A cost benefit analysis contracted by TrustPower showed that if the company took more than three years longer than the WVWEC to build the scheme, the irrigation company would be financially better off funding their own project.

Currently he runs about 8 ha Lucerne, 17 ha peas, 17ha corn, 17ha wheat, 20 ha barley and 20 ha of redclover for seed cropping. Frost susceptibility renders his property unsuitable for viticulture, so crops once grown further down the Wairau Valley (now dominated by grapes) have moved up-river.

Steve runs dairy bull beef. He buys in calves around November December and takes progressive cuts of those animals as they come up to weight. At the moment he has 300 calves and around 250 - 18 month old bulls. He says one of the features of the dairy beef is that theres wide range of performance. The animals are bred for milk production but not much work has been done on how they grow out. Hes noticed as much as 6 months difference in their performance. Steves not averse to putting good supplement into the animals and is proud of the animals he sends off to Canterbury meat packers. He does however, have an aversion to Jersey bulls.

Steve has his own gear and works as a contractor during the season although he tends to keep within his local patch. He says the season has been horrendous. Hed usually have done 6,000 odd round bales by this time each year this season it is more like 2,000. Steve also has a 20 metre sprayer and usually got plenty of work on with this.

Steve hates the overuse of N in his soils. Hes is a suspension fertiliser fan who believes in balancing nutrients in the soils rather than adding what is lacking.

I believe you have to feed all your livestock including those in the soil.

Steve usually employs 5 staff. This year being a poor season especially for the contracting hes dropped it back to 2. The other issue is that he feels he needs to be able to offer guaranteed income to his staff which in the current climate is hard. His solution is hire semi-retired folk who if theyre not working for him are at least getting a cheque from Auntie Helen.