New Zealand is a beautiful country with exceptionally friendly, pragmatic, and resourceful people. This issue of Irrigation Leader is all about our February 18–25, 2017, irrigation tour in New Zealand and what we learned there. Before we begin, I want to say thank you to Alligare and Rubicon Water who, with our magazine, helped sponsor the tour. A very special thank you goes to Andrew Curtis, executive director of New Zealand Water, and his wonderful wife, Josie, who planned our itinerary and secured our accommodations. Additionally, Andrew drove our bus, directed the tour, and taught us all a great deal. Thank you to all our tour participants as well for making time in your personal and professional lives to travel around the globe. Each of you asked insightful questions and had observations that added to the educational value of the tour. It was an exceptional experience.
Though an island nation, everything about New Zealand is vast, open, and huge. The scenery is beautiful and diverse. Plains stop and mountains begin abruptly. It is like many places you may have seen in the United States, like Montana or Colorado, but it is noticeably undeveloped and unpopulated. The most striking feature for us was the color of the water. The cover photo of the Rangitata River is not a trick of the camera or the printer. The water is a luminous, turquoise-blue color that draws your eye like watching a camp fire or a sunset. It was explained to us that the water is glacial in origin and contains rock flour, or silica, that reflects the bluish color. We found that beautiful color in all the canals (locally known as raceways), rivers, and lakes.
Another striking feature was the way the New Zealanders manage their wind breaks. As a native of Nebraska, I am well acquainted with wind breaks and the variety of tree species we use to maximize effectiveness. In New Zealand, they use similar pine or evergreen species, but they plant them closer together and prune them like giant hedgerows. We learned that trimming the windbreaks each year made them much stronger and also contains them to a smaller space than needed for a windbreak that is allowed to grow wild. Much to the eventual annoyance of our tour guide, we Americans were fascinated by the huge, manicured, green blocks along the fields and took lots photos. “I thought you came here to see irrigation instead of a bunch of bloody trees!”
New Zealanders take great pride in their homes and businesses. Hospital clean or spotless is how I would describe the average convenience store or coffee shop. The same is true for any other business that services the public; every place was exceptionally clean and well organized. The farms and irrigation facilities we visited were well maintained and cared for. There is a bedrock of resourcefulness and practicality in New Zealand thinking that can be seen in nearly everything New Zealanders build or do. It is the cow’s job to walk to the pasture and back to the milking parlor. Feed crops are pastured in place to eliminate harvest and trucking costs. Work is done with only the number of people that is absolutely necessary. The dairies we visited required two people to operate. Whereas an irrigation district in the United States may have 75–100 employees, New Zealand districts (locally known as schemes) of similar service acreage would have 3–5 employees, with the vast amount of work done by outside contractors to save money.
Pivots are the primary form of irrigation, with the technology taken to its limits. I counted 29 pivot towers on one roadside windshield wiper and saw mounds created near buildings to allow the pivots to climb over. Nearly every pivot tower we saw was outfitted with special bars to allow them to climb over the countless electric pasture fences. The fence wires were spring loaded to allow such crossings. We learned that many innovations in pivot technology were developed or tested in New Zealand before going to the United States and other markets.
Thanks again to our sponsors, planners, and participants. We hope our readers enjoy leaning about our tour participants’ observations and experiences in New Zealand. Above all, this second international irrigation tour (our first tour was to Australia in 2016) has further demonstrated the great value of first-hand observation of irrigation techniques and perspectives. With two tours now complete, we have learned a great deal and will continue to make planning improvements so that more of our irrigation district managers, board members, and farmers can participate in future trips. We are going back to Australia in 2018—February 17–24—so mark your calendars. For more information on our next irrigation tour, please see our website at www.waterstrategies.com. Thank you for your continued support.
Kris Polly is editor-in-chief of Irrigation Leader magazine and president of Water Strategies LLC, a government relations firm he began in February 2009 for the purpose of representing and guiding water, power, and agricultural entities in their dealings with Congress, the Bureau of Reclamation, and other federal government agencies. He may be contacted at Kris.Polly@waterstrategies.com.