While IrrigationNZ says it is pleased that the Government has listened to the farming sector regarding freshwater reform - the impacts still remain significant.

"We are pleased to see that the Government's freshwater reforms announced today respond to some of the issues raised, and recommendations made, by the irrigation sector" said IrrigationNZ chief executive Elizabeth Soal.

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"But there is a lot of complexity in this large scale reform, and it will have cost and operational impacts on irrigators".

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The implications of the package would need to be carefully worked through for irrigation schemes and individual irrigators and IrrigationNZ would work with its members to assist them, said Soal.

One positive note was that the restrictions on irrigation development had eased from what was, effectively, "a complete moratorium", said Soal.

IrrigationNZ chief executive Elizabeth Soal. Photo / Supplied
IrrigationNZ chief executive Elizabeth Soal. Photo / Supplied

"Blanket irrigation development restrictions now don't apply to horticulture or crop producers, but only to increasing irrigation on dairy farms by more than 10 hectares, or conversions of farms into dairying".

"However, our preference does remain for restrictions to apply to the effects of an activity, rather than the activity itself".

The Government had also adopted IrrigationNZ's recommendation that compulsory, auditable Farm Environment Plans with a freshwater management module, be rolled out using a phased approach, targeting at-risk catchments in the first instance, said Soal.

"The irrigation sector has been a leader in implementing farm environment plans and we know they are an effective means for improving practices and environmental outcomes across the farming system".

IrrigationNZ said it also supported water users undertaking real-time reporting of water use to councils.

"Many irrigators and irrigation schemes have already installed equipment to transmit data directly to councils. This allows councils to monitor compliance with resource consent conditions, it helps farmers and growers better understand their water use, and it is critical for water allocation decisions" said Soal.

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"This is going to be even more important under climate change to ensure our communities are resilient and our waterways healthy".

Soal said the Government would not set nationally bottom lines for Dissolved Inorganic Nitrogen (DIN) and Dissolved Reactive Phosphorus (DRP) - - at least in the interim, "following outcry from many parts of the agricultural sector, including ourselves".

The Covid-19 crisis had demonstrated how critical the food and fibre sectors were for the economy, but also for feeding New Zealanders, said Soal.

"Aotearoa New Zealand leads the world in its farming sustainability and innovation, so we must strike a balance between regulating practice and allowing for innovation".

"As a sector, irrigators are willing to play our part and will work with the Government to strike a balance and get things right".