Co-operation amongst co-operatives: the BCI story

Co-operation amongst co-operatives: the BCI story

Barrhill Chertsey Irrigation Limited (BCI) was formed as a farmer owned co-operative company in 1998 and, in 2001, was granted consent to take 17 cumecs of water from the Rakaia River and irrigate 40,000 ha in Mid Canterbury.

As General Manager John Wright explains, the story of BCI is an example of collaboration within a community – and cooperation among cooperatives.

BCI formed a joint venture with local electricity lines co-operative Electricity Ashburton (EA Networks) in late 2009, and that joint venture developed the first BCI irrigation infrastructure in 2010, John said.

“The joint venture entered contractual arrangements with Trustpower to install and operate river intake, fish screening, and pumping facilities to deliver the water from the Rakaia River to the Rangitata Diversion Race using some of the existing Highbank Power Station facilities.”

Read the history of Mid-Canterbury irrigation here.

In 2015 BCI embarked on its next big development installing a new Rakaia River intake and pipe network spanning from Barrhill to Chertsey.

“The infrastructure included a small hydro generation plant to utilise water for electricity generation.  By 2016 BCI was delivering water to 20,000 ha in the district, having grown from 7,000 ha in 2010.

“In 2017 the two joint venture partners agreed it was time to consider full farmer ownership of the scheme,” he said.

“In September that year BCI secured 100% ownership of the irrigation scheme infrastructure.  

“We could not have developed the scheme without our fellow co-op (Electricity Ashburton), providing technical and governance support, and confidence to bank funders,” he said.

Mid Canterbury now has more than 220,000 irrigated hectares and continues to be a powerhouse in food production in NZ. BCI makes up around 10% of the irrigated area across the province. 

BCI is a strong supporter of Irrigo Centre Limited, a joint irrigation scheme-owned administration and environmental service provider based in Ashburton.  John Wright said sharing an office with the major irrigation schemes in the district, under the Irrigo banner, gives a great opportunity to collaborate and provide appropriate resourcing among the group.

“This collaboration will ultimately lead to the consolidation of irrigation schemes in the district,” he said.

BCI is a Member of both Irrigation NZ and Cooperative Business NZ.

John Wright’s father, Alex, is one of nine Honorary Members of Cooperative Business NZ. Alex sat on the Steering Committee when the original NZ Agricultural Cooperatives Association was formed in 1984, and then its Board for over 20 years including a lengthy period as Chairman. This Association was re-branded Cooperative Business NZ in December 2012.