Agriculture is a very important industry for Methven, traditionally a sheep and grain growing area, irrigation has changed the way we use our land. Dairy farming and specialised crops are now also an important part of the industry.
Settlers to the Methven area set up large sheep farms on the plains and in the hill country to produce wool, which was in demand in Europe.
In the 1870s and 1880s leasehold sheep runs on the plains gave way to freehold estates and family farms as steel ploughs and reaping and threshing machines made wheat-growing easier and more profitable, and refrigeration enabled the slaughtering and exporting of frozen meat.
More intensive farming on the plains was possible once rural railways were built and shelter belts planted. New crop options – peas, potatoes and fodder crops – made small farming more profitable.
The average rainfall in the Methven area was adequate for farming, but during nor’westers the rate of evaporation was high, especially from shallow, gravelly soils. Irrigation trials started in mid-Canterbury as early as 1880, but large-scale irrigation did not start until well into the 1930s. The Rangitata Diversion Race (RDR), completed in 1944, is a 67km long extending from an intake on the Rangitata River at Klondyke to a discharge at Highbank on the Rakaia River. Three Community Irrigation Schemes, two hydroelectric power stations, Ashburton District Council stockwater race system and various private stockwater and irrigation schemes are now supplied by the race. Border dyke irrigation around the area has been mostly replaced by centre pivot spray irrigation, which uses about half as much water to the same effect.
Dairying in the region expanded quickly in the 1990s. Over 95,000 hectares of Ashburton District’s land is now in dairy production with approximately 350,000 dairy herds producing around 146 million kgs of milk solids.
The Mid Canterbury area is often referred to as the grain bowl of New Zealand, (figures in in 2012 indicated we produced 46.6% of the country’s wheat) but we also have an extremely high reputation for high quality pasture seed, and vegetable seed production. Radish, carrots, ryegrass, onion and clover are just a few of the high value seed export crops grown in the area and exported to more than 60 countries across the globe.
Below you will find links to information that will be useful to those working in the local agricultural industry as well as those wanting to learn more about the local industry.