5 May, Wairarapa Times-Age

Wairarapa to become a more diverse food basket

Wairarapa farmers looking to benefit from the Wakamoekau Community Water Storage Scheme by shifting their operation to alternative high value land uses are getting a helping hand from a team of agricultural innovators.

Leftfield Innovation Limited has been successfully enabling Canterbury growers to convert low-yield farmland to growing high-yield crops.

With the experience that the Christchurch-based social enterprise has gained in the South Island they are now applying their thinking to Wairarapa.

Leftfield co-founder Susan Goodfellow says the link between the two regions is security of water supply: in the case of Canterbury, the Central Plains Water (CPW) scheme; for Wairarapa, the Wakamoekua Community Water Storage Scheme (WCWSS)

“Water reliability and security opens up a whole new range of opportunities for farmers that previously didn’t exist,” Ms Goodfellow says.

“Our role is to help farmers explore alternative land uses and contracts with an end-to-end approach to market and enable this to happen.”

Wairarapa Water Ltd (WWL) is leading the development of WCWSS. The project has government support, through the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF), and was awarded $7m of support in January to progress the work required to complete feasibility studies, lodge a resource consent application and prepare for construction start targeted in 2023.

WWL chief executive Robyn Wells, says the work that Leftfield has been doing in Canterbury is highly relevant to the Wairarapa.

“One of the key principles for water storage as defined in the PGF agreement, is that it will strengthen regional economics by shifting land use to high value, sustainable uses, while avoiding increases in livestock intensification,” Ms Wells says.

Nick Pyke and Susan Goodfellow of Leftfield Innovation.

According to Ms Goodfellow, Leftfield’s strategy in Canterbury is allowing farmers to transition to sustainable land use options quickly, justifying their investment in the CPW scheme.

“The clear message from farmers in Canterbury was to focus on things that can be grown in the region that they can capture more value from. So that is what we embarked on as a strategy to look at for near term opportunities.

“A key part of that was been working with food companies, processes and manufacturers to see what capability exists and what appetite there is to either increase output or do things differently to unlock opportunity in the market.”

As a result, Leftfield formed a 4,000 hectare grower group that is now growing different varieties of grains and pulses, working with a milling company that is very interested in provenance, traceability and other technologies.

Leftfield believe a similar strategy can be applied to Wairarapa where there are lots of really “cool things” already going on in the food space, but now it is about how to activate into scale and take it to the next level, Goodfellow says.

“With the potential for horticulture and vegetables, Wairarapa today could look very different in the future once water reliability becomes a factor.”

WCWSS consists of a reservoir in the hills north-west of Masterton, with a holding capacity of up to 19 million cubic metres of water and supplying about 28 million cubic metres a year. The reservoir will harvest and store water when it is not required in winter to distribute it in the months when it is required.

The scheme has the potential to address environmental, urban, industrial and food and fibre production security of water supply needs due to climate change pressures and rising environmental standards.

TIMES-AGE

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