Horticulture potential excites outgoing water chairman

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Eyeing the future . . . Ngai Tahu's Balmoral Farms is eyeing the potential for growing fruit and berries. File photo

By ROBYN BRISTOW

A move by Ngai Tahu into horticulture on its property at Balmoral, in the Amuri Basin, has exciting potential for the Hurunui district, says Hurunui-Waiau zone committee chairman John Faulkner.

Mr Faulkner, who was presenting his last annual report to the Hurunui District Council as he prepares to step down from the committee at the end of this term, says the small amount of water required, versus water needed for dairying, provided a huge opportunity to divert away from the dairy industry.

Ngai Tahu, which hosted a visit from the zone committee to Ngai Tahu Farms at Balmoral, is researching the potential for fruit trees and berries on its properties.

Mr Faulkner says the potential from apples alone to boost employment opportunities was “huge” for the district, particularly with the need for pickers and packers and the potential for a cool store to be built.

“In 50 years time you won’t recognise the district,” he says.

Hurunui Mayor Winton Dalley, a member of the zone committee, says the Balmoral development is exciting, and while there is not going to be “mega” hectares of horticulture, it was a good replacement for land which had not long come out of forest.

A total of 50 hectares was being used for horticulture while the landowners worked to understand the potential, not just for them, but for the environment.

Mr Dalley says Ngai Tahu’s move to horticulture was a good signal for farmers who were looking at how best to deal with quake-damaged land in other parts of the districts, particularly on fragile soils and where nutrient loss was an issue.

“We are now working with farmers to understand individual needs for land-use potential, where they can still tap into funding to help make use of damaged land,” Mr Dalley said.

Mr Faulkner stressed the need for a collaborative outlook across the zone, particularly through the BRIDGE project in conjunction with Environment Canterbury.

The project was great in theory, but was lacking consultation with landowners.

“That needs to happen as it has huge potential to get some huge environmental outcomes,” he says.

Mr Faulkner says if the community, environmental groups and the zone committee worked together they could develop a design project on a stretch of the Waiau River through a collaborative effort that looked out 20 years.

This could be the blueprint for other parts of the river, and other rivers in the zone.

Working collaboratively had become difficult, however, because Fish and Game and Forest and Bird had walked away from the process. These broken relationships needed to be mended.

As he moved to step down, he called for a review and highlighted the need for passionate people to join the committee.

“The conversations we have around issues are intense and it is a battle at times,” he says.

He went head-to-head with the mayor and Cr Vince Daly. “But I am comfortable having those open conversations and taking the flack.”

New people coming on to the zone committee needed the strength of the community behind them because of the tensions that needed to be overcome.