2 May 2014

Irrigation NZ Conference, Napier – a couple of lingering thoughts

This week our CEO, Bridgit Hawkins, shares her thoughts from the recent Irrigation NZ conference held in Napier.

"A couple of weeks ago I attended the biennial Irrigation NZ conference. Held in the North Island for the first time, we delegates were challenged to keep our brains active by heading outside for regular changes of venue over the course of the day – made all the more invigorating by the rain that Hawke's Bay was welcoming! As with all conferences the best part is the networking and meeting new people, but there are always one or two presentations that really stand out and get you thinking.

The first of these was by James Palmer, Deputy Secretary, Sector Strategy, Ministry for the Environment. Absolutely not the cardi-wearing stereotype popularised by “Gliding On”, James gave a really informative and intelligent presentation covering the freshwater reforms underway. A comment he made that stuck with me was around the consultative approach that has been used in the Land and Water Forum. Although it may appear on the outside to be time-consuming, the process ensures that a real shared understanding by all the stakeholders is developed so the ultimate solutions are much more durable and meet more of everyone’s goals. Another reason he mentioned why this approach is important is that low voter turnout to local government elections doesn’t equal a firm mandate, so it is vital that all the community is engaged in these important decision processes.

The second presentation that really interested me was by Nicky Hyslop, who farms with her husband in South Canterbury and is part of the Opua Dam irrigation scheme. She gave some great insights into the transformational change to rural businesses and rural communities that secure water storage brings. She talked about not only the changes the irrigation scheme has meant to her own farming operation, but some of the other land uses that are now possible and the flow-on business growth in the region in processing and transport, not to mention the benefits to school rolls and employment that comes along with that. Nicky has so much energy and enthusiasm and really bought home how important it is to tell the whole story about the change water storage can bring – a lot of that change is only positive and is vital for the health and sustainability of regional New Zealand.

So I’ve been reflecting on what that all might mean for our business – how can we work alongside rural New Zealand to make sure the opportunities ahead bring all that positive change. I think the answer is in each of these presentations; keep making sure we are engaging with our community as we develop new products, and make sure we tell the story about how these products lift profitability while ensuring environmental sustainability!"

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