Desperate attempt to save rain-starved crops

By Lawrence Gullery of Hawke's Bay Today -
Fruitgrowers Association president Leon Stallard. Photo / Warren Buckland
Fruitgrowers Association president Leon Stallard. Photo / Warren Buckland

Rain-starved fruitgrowers say they're willing to breach water restrictions in a desperate attempt to save their crops.

Hawke's Bay Fruitgrowers Association president Leon Stallard said the current dry spell was ideal for tree crops but the key to making it one of the best on record would come down to whether this week's rain arrived.

"We need to ensure we have got enough water to irrigate and that is the concern," Mr Stallard said.

Fruitgrowers were on a collision course with the Hawke's Bay Regional Council and other local authorities which had placed tougher limits on taking water from rivers, streams and the aquifer for irrigation.

"People are fearful of the new system, rules and regulations for water compliance and that they might breach those rules. Some feel it is better to irrigate a crop, have it ready for harvest and get the money off it to pay the fine, rather than to stop irrigating and lose the crop altogether."

He said water was the "hot topic" at the moment, with the regional council putting forward its Tukituki Plan Change and water issues around the Tutaekuri River and the Twyford area.

"But we acknowledge there is pressure coming on the aquifer, our streams and rivers and that we have to manage it better to make sure there is enough water to go around for everyone.

"If we get two or three days of gentle rain this week, which really soaks into the top soil, that would be perfect and add millions of dollars on the back of the cropping and fruit industry.

"What we are hoping is that the councils responsible for monitoring what water we use, learn to manage the situation rather than just force compliance."

Mr Stallard said it would also improve Hawke's Bay's offering to the market next year.

"There is a shortage of fruit for the international market at this stage and demand is quite high, even with our high dollar, and so this could be the start of the fruit industry going into a golden year at long last."

This summer would be a test case for the regional council's water metering systems which had been introduced to make sure irrigators were not taking more water than their permits allowed.

"The big thing with water meters is that they will accurately calculate how much water is being used for the first time because in the past our consents had been issued on a theoretical model.

"I must emphasise though that it has to be managed and not enforced.

"This may involve reconfiguring wells and pumps and on an orchard that's not something you can do overnight."

Hawke's Bay Federated Farmers president Bruce Wills said pastoral farmers were also feeling the heat of the dry weather around the region but did not have the same water worries as fruitgrowers.

"The whole area from Hastings down to Wairarapa is suffering from the dry weather and we're at the kind of levels we would normally experience in February.

"A wet, soaking Christmas would be just what the doctor ordered for farmers."

Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule said he would reactivate the Hawke's Bay Drought Committee if the dry weather persisted over the coming months.

"Hopefully some of the rain we've been promised will arrive in the next 10 days. The southern and eastern parts of Hawke's Bay are probably the worst at the moment."

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