RNZ - Irrigration industry looks to fix bad boy image at conference

The head of Irrigation New Zealand recognises the industry has garnered an image as the bad boys in the eyes of many, but they are working to fix it.

About 400 delegates have attended the Irrigation New Zealand conference in Alexandra this week, hearing what the future holds for the agricultural industry.

Irrigation New Zealand chief executive Andrew Curtis said restoring the public image of irrigators was a focus for the industry.

"We are at this crossroads and we have got to find a way forward," he said.

"What's starting to come through, particularly at this conference, is we have accepted that there's an issue and we are looking actively for that way forward.

"I think some of what that discussion is now is how long is that going to take. Realistically we have to balance the socio-economics of the community and we have to balance that with getting better and improving our environment.

"I think we have got past the 'there's no problem' - there is a problem. And I think now we are into OK how do we fix this and what's the time in order to do this."

Work was already underway to clean up practices and improve environmental outcomes, and the industry wanted to work with environmental NGOs to improve water quality, he said.

The delegates heard from many speakers on the first day, including Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan who said the agricultural sector was uniquely positioned to change the hearts and minds of all New Zealanders about its practice.

"For many New Zealanders that link between irrigation and the degradation of waterways is incontrovertible - they are wrong but it's incontrovertible," he said.

"There is a very sad disconnect between town and country in New Zealand, if not the world."

Those in the agricultural sector not only needed to put the effort into telling the good news about environmental measures being used, but also take responsibility to call out poor behaviour among their peers when they saw it, he said.

Doctor Stuart Styles, of the California Polytechnic State University, said New Zealand's irrigators were leading the way globally, both technologically and environmentally.

The conference continues today.