Dryland farming brought the first permanent European settlement. Much of the initial surveying was carried out in 1857 by the Provincial Surveyor, J. T. Thomson. The large number of Scottish names given, especially some of the more colourful ones, such as Pigburn or Sowburn, probably more reflected his sense of humour when his masters told him to avoid excessive use of Maori names than they did any colonial cultural imperative!
The first large farming runs in the Maniototo, Manuherikia and Teviot Valleys were established at about this time. The Otago Central Railway was primarily established to provide rapid transit of stock into and out of the district.
Although small private irrigation schemes based around water races were used in the 19th Century it wasn’t until 1909 that larger schemes were envisaged, and following the 1st World War the first of these schemes were established (Galloway, Earnscleugh and Manuherikia schemes).
Irrigation schemes continued to grow and during the depression years large storage dams were constructed throughout the district. By the 1980’s, when the large irrigation schemes were privatised, over three-quarters of the valley land in Central Otago had access to irrigation water.
With increasing intensity of land-use water is now recognised as the main constraint to new farming or horticultural initiatives and in many ways has become the districts most valuable resource.
The last 10 years have seen some of the largest changes in farming methods and land uses since the irrigation schemes went in. Large central pivot irrigation booms are now common in some areas and there have been a number of dairy conversions in locations with the best water supplies. Life-style blocks and vineyards have also made in-roads into areas that were traditionally sheep or beef farming. Farming is still a traditional land use in the District, and many farmers can trace their families involvement in the district back for more than 100 years.