You may be cycling past green pastures, but take a look at the dry ground alongside the track and you can see the difference that irrigation has made. Where does the water come from in this dry land?
Again, Central Otago has the gold miners to thank for its irrigation schemes. ‘Water races’ were dug for many kilometres across steep hillsides to channel water down to the diggers sluicing for gold. After the mining days Otago farmers began to use the water races to irrigate their farms in the valleys below. The Government supported farmers by building storage dams and more water channels, also creating much-needed jobs during the 1930s Depression.
Many farmers are now shareholders in irrigation schemes that are still using some of the old dams and water races. Others opt for pumping water from their own bores, or paying an annual fee for water from public schemes.
Irrigation methods have changed over the years. Early farmers simply flooded the paddocks, but technology has advanced. The automated ‘traversing irrigation units’ that wheel across the paddocks are gigantic. In contrast, orchardists prefer the precision of ‘drip irrigation’ hoses. Nutrients can now be added to water sprinklers (‘fertigation’), while ‘scheduling control’ measures the soil moisture, releasing water only when needed.
Carefully managed irrigation adds millions of dollars to the local economy.