Irrigation New Zealand is calling for water storage schemes to be fast-tracked to drought-proof agriculture.
The irrigation umbrella body says New Zealand can no longer carry the cost of bailing out agriculture from the effects of a significant drought every five years.
Chief executive Andrew Curtis says more than a billion dollars has already been wiped out this summer through drought.
He says the answer lies with a combination of regional and on-farm water storage development.
He says the North Island would not be in such dire straits if it had water storage on-farm.
The South Island is also starting to dry out with restrictions on irrigation from rivers now in force in many areas.
Andrew Curtis says in contrast, irrigation schemes serviced by the Opuha Dam in South Canterbury won't face restriction until the end of March and then possibly only partial restrictions.
He says the Opuha Dam has been able to maintain river flows well above the very low natural flows normally experienced in dry conditions.