Addressing the annual meeting in Christchurch, chair Keri Johnston said irrigation still, in many circles, has a negative connotation.
“It is automatically seen as a direct enabler of intensification and, therefore, poor water quality,” Johnston said.
“Our job is to change the conversation around irrigation, steering it away from being an emotive conversation to one where our communities recognise its benefits.”
Johnston highlighted how quickly the organisation adapted to mitigate the risk of failure.
“Covid-19 has changed the world and required organisations and businesses to adapt quickly, or risk failure,” she said,
“IrrigationNZ did respond quickly, and being cognisant of our members’ wants and needs, we dared greatly.
“We jumped into the arena, restructured both the board and the organisation, and relocated our base.
“This has taken courage, it has meant having some hard conversations and asking for what we need, but our passion for the organisation and irrigation in NZ, and the role we have to play in improving community resilience to climate change and ensuring our nation’s food security has been a huge motivation and driving force for us.”
While the success of the changes is yet to be seen, Johnston says the board is positive.
“What we now ask you, our members, is that you keep showing up with us, be courageous and dare greatly.”
Outgoing chief executive Elizabeth Soal says the operational restructure of the business was a challenging process that has now positioned IrrigationNZ on a sustainable footing to be more resilient and effective in the future.
It is now timely, Soal says, for the organisation to review its constitution and issues around funding and membership.
A discussion paper setting out these issues and possible options will be distributed to members for feedback.
As she handed over the reins to new chief executive Vanessa Winning, Soal thanked the membership for their support and belief in the new direction of the organisation as it now implements the key strategic priorities of advocacy, connectivity and leadership.
Winning says with change comes opportunity, albeit with challenges coming in the implementation of freshwater reforms, as well as the increasing impact of climate change and the need for ongoing investment in water infrastructure, storage and accurate use.
Going forward she says IrrigationNZ is part of the solution, rather than the problem, as it works on informing and educating officials to move away from a conversation about agriculture intensification to one about risk mitigation, food surety, drinking water, community benefit and regional development.
“The Government has been receptive to this change in conversation and it is one I am keen to continue to have as an irrigation collective, from industry experts, suppliers, schemes and individual irrigators,” Winning said.
“We have a massive opportunity to demonstrate best practice and work with our communities to create a sustainable and stronger outcome for all.
“I have even found a welcoming group of non-governmental organisations wanting to collaborate and understand more about how irrigation works.”
This provides the primary sector the opportunity to further showcase its ability to produce to the Government as it looks for ways to recover.
“It’s given us an opportunity to work with the decision-makers, to ensure we talk about de-risking our country and get the resources and investment we need; something we may not have had an opportunity to have showcased prior to covid,” she said.
“It further builds the case for ongoing and urgent investment in capture, storage, infrastructure and irrigation technologies to ensure we get ahead of the climatic shifts and support our ongoing reliance on being the world’s high-value food bowl.
She says it’s an opportunity to ensure the needs of our community, iwi, growers and farmers are met in a more holistic way with local and central government.
“This is what the country wants from us, this is how we can ensure new irrigation investment and support existing schemes to continue, while continuing to improve our impact on the environment and supporting the economic recovery,” she said.
“We have an opportunity right now to lead an important adult conversation about water, one where we work together to get the best solutions in the right way so we can continue to produce the fruit, veges, meat and cheese we do so well.”
Winning says the move to Wellington is not about being another lobby group.
“It’s about having a credible, science and innovation-based seat at the decision-making table, and it’s up to us now to work with the decision-makers and open doors to get the best holistic outcomes,” she said.