Nigel and Jacqueline Burbury are one step away from abandoning their Moore Rd orchard because there won't be enough water next year to grow fruit on the 24ha property they've worked for 22 years.
An irrigation ban during the height of harvest in March translated into an income loss of $160,000 at their Te Hapua Orchard while Heinz Wattie's believed the ban cost its suppliers in the same area more than $1 million.
The Hawke's Bay Regional Council-imposed ban stressed the orchard's Golden Queen peach crop to the point it caused the fruit to mature before it had grown to a size suitable to be accepted by processors.
The orchard, midway between the Red and Black bridges on the eastern side of the Tukituki River, lost 220 tonnes of peaches, and a number of jobs were cut during harvest because of the water ban.
The Burburys have written to the council's annual plan, pointing out their desperate situation and asking for a better way to manage water.
"They've seemed to have put this in the too-hard basket. We are the last irrigators on the Tukituki river and we seem to be copping the brunt of the problems caused upstream," Mr Burbury said.
The irrigation ban was triggered when the Tukituki river flow fell below the 3500 litres per second mark at Red Bridge. The regional council plans to alter the trigger level to 4300 litres per second in 2018, and 5200 litres per second in 2022. Mr Burbury said those limits would render his family property unsuitable for horticulture use.
"We are the only orchard between the two bridges and having enough water is crucial at harvest time. If they introduce these new levels we will be stuffed.
"We don't have any other options available to us, the land will be unsuitable for anything else because it's too dry, unless we get guaranteed water."
Mr Burbury's last hope was the proposed Ruataniwha dam in Central Hawke's Bay: "It will mean we can buy water but ... if it doesn't go ahead, we will be gone, it will be the end of our operation here."
The orchard had reduced its own water used by 30 per cent in recent seasons but managed to increase crop production. Mr Burbury suggested the regional council could alter the low flow limits or restrict water for certain uses, such as pastoral.
"We fear a repetition of this year's event which would destroy our business here."
Hawke's Bay Fruitgrowers Association summer fruit chairman Brian Fulford said other orchard operations on the Heretaunga Plains could be under the same pressure.
Association executive officer Dianne Vesty said it was an example of the impact of the new irrigation ban levels had on an orchard.
Irrigation bans feared
Tough irrigation bans next year could result in some permanent crops being removed and annual crops not considered at all, on top of income loss and lower land values.
Heinz Wattie's made the points in its submission to the Hawke's Bay Regional Council's annual plan, with water supply likely to be prominent on its radar this year.
Heinz Wattie senior crop supply agronomist Bruce Mackay said last harvest season's irrigation ban on water consents tied to Red Bridge, Tukituki River, cost the food industry more than $1 million:
"From a grower's perspective, this was felt by three suppliers and will impact their individual incomes by about a third of this. The balance is lost opportunity to our business and the local, and national GDP."
Temporary restrictions placed on the Ngaruroro River mid-January, which was eased because of rain, severely threatened a 50ha beetroot crop in the Ohiti Valley.
"The losses to grower and industry, had this ban continued, would have also been well in excess of $1 million."
Heinz Wattie's wanted the regional council's work on water to recognise the economic impact to primary and secondary producers. It believed in "living within limits" for water quality and quantity but in a way which allowed economic activity to continue.
The council's approach, turning water on and then off when river water levels were low, offered little security to food growers.