The Country - Farmers and community pitch in

A partnership between Otago farmers, Blue Mountains Nurseries and school pupils and their parents will pay dividends for the environment and a local swimming pool.

In West Otago, the Pomahaka River catchment covers 4000km of waterways. For the last decade there has been a significant increase in stream restoration projects by a range of agencies, community groups and rural landowners.

These projects are strongly focused on re-establishing or enhancing riparian vegetation with fenced riparian areas acting like a sieve, helping to filter out sediment and nutrients before they enter waterways.

The Pomahaka Water Care Group evolved from these innovators and involvement of DoC, NZ Landcare Trust, Fish & Game, iwi, Otago Regional Council, Fonterra, Dairy NZ and Beef & Lamb.

Now registered as an incorporated society, the farmer-driven voluntary group has sought to understand water quality in their catchment and make evidence-based riparian plans.

The group conducts water tests for E. coli, nitrogen and phosphate over 22 sites along the Pomahaka River, four times a year, as well as testing their own discharges.

Recently, as part of planning for the next phase of riparian planting, the group discovered a significant shortfall in plant availability.

Lloyd McCall, who chairs the group, approached Denis Hughes from Blue Mountain Nurseries in Tapanui to see what could be done. They hatched a plan to produce plants over three years, combining the strengths of Blue Mountain Nurseries to grow the plants and community involvement, in this case, the West Otago Swimming Pool Fundraising Committee, to tend the plants and finally, farmers to buy the plants.

The pool committee was raising funds for a new roof for the local pool and offered their time weeding, spacing and repotting. Blue Mountain Nurseries contributed trays, potting mix, propagation, general care, growing space and watering.

Lloyd went back to the farmers to get a deposit and pre-orders. So far, 22,000 plants have been ordered and a deposit of $2 per plant paid. Farmers will pay a further $3 per plant in the next one to two years - $2 for the pool committee to cover the donated labour costs and $1 per plant to cover any unexpected costs. Farmers commit to buying a minimum of 500 plants per year.

Blue Mountain Nurseries will run workshops to show farmers how to successfully plant and manage riparian buffers.

"Community groups and local business working together offer some significant benefits," Lloyd said. "Each brings in-kind contributions for the collective good.

The scheme is farmer-driven so there's a bigger commitment to make this work. Farmers are taking on the responsibility to make a difference to our waterways and a financial commitment to what will be a long-term project for improved water quality, stable erosion and increased biodiversity.

"Additionally, these plants are grown for local conditions and are bigger than normal at no extra price. The larger grade plant offers a greater strike rate in riparian zones and a better return on investment."