Opinion: Plants need water too

  • Opinion
  • 22/01/2019

By Mike Chapman

OPINION: Horticulture New Zealand submits to councils from one end of New Zealand to the other to get water allocated for plants that grow healthy food. 

You would think that it is self-evident that plants need water not only for survival, but to be productive and to produce top quality, healthy food. From our work, it has become clear that there are a number of people in New Zealand, and some of them are councillors, who do understand that just like people and animals, plants need water to live.

As climate change impacts those areas of New Zealand that are predicted to become drier, such as the east coast, water during dry periods will become all the more critical. Dead plants do not feed people or animals.

Our water comes from rain. NIWA's figures show that 80 percent of the rain water washes out to sea, a further 18 percent evaporates, and we use just 2 percent. There is a real conundrum here. Councils are progressively advising that some of our rivers and aquifers are fully allocated taking water for urban and rural use. Yet we waste literally millions of litres of water. 

We need to get smarter, quickly. The solution is straight forward: we need to store more water when river levels are high. There are innovative projects underway, such as injecting water back into aquifers during high river flows to provide water in dry periods, storing water for both irrigation and to keep adequate flows to keep rivers alive.

Mike Chapman (left) says we need to work together on water supply issues.
Mike Chapman (left) says we need to work together on water supply issues. Photo credit: Supplied

As a country we need to stop squabbling over water and unite to ensure that people, animals and plants have an adequate supply of water and we can all survive. The impact of water storage on water quality largely depends on what the water is used for. Horticultural crops are not likely to reduce water quality for swimming because they do not result in increased pathogens, such as E coli.

We need to be able to grow food to feed New Zealanders. We eat most of the vegetables grown here. The population is increasing and without access to water, the amount of vegetables we grow will not match demand. Around two-thirds of the fruit we grow is exported and that, along with some vegetable exports, generates valuable financial returns for New Zealand. The value of horticulture is around $6 billion, and that has been forecast by the Ministry for Primary Industries, to grow by 12 percent in the next six months.

In the next few weeks Horticulture New Zealand will present evidence at hearings around the country, seeking a fair allocation of the available water.  

As the year progresses, more submissions will be made seeking water for growing food, not only for basic plant survival in droughts, but also to be highly productive to both feed New Zealand and to add to New Zealand's economic prosperity.  

This is however, as noted above, becoming an increasingly competitive process. That is why we need to look to our collective futures and get very serious about water storage.  

Our rivers, people, animals and plants can have the water they need if we work together as a country to achieve this.

Mike Chapman is CEO of Horticulture NZ