Farmers and growers in very dry regions around the country are urged to make plans to get through a summer that has turned hot and dry sooner than usual.
Minister for Agriculture and Rural Communities Damien O’Connor said today that the latest information from NIWA and industry bodies makes it clear that while farmers are generally coping through this early dry spell, rain over the next few weeks cannot be relied upon.
“It could go either way,” says Mr O’Connor.
“It is still early in the summer and a few good rainfalls could change the picture. On the other hand – patchy rain not hitting the right spots could mean the situation becomes more serious.”
Areas of concern are coastal areas from Taranaki southwards, and the rest of the lower North Island below a line from Mangamahu, Hunterville and Apiti. On the other side of the ranges, Tararua and parts of Wairarapa are also under pressure. Parts of the South Island are also showing as increasingly dry.
“We are getting the best weather forecasting available and clear daily information about the level of dryness across the country from NIWA’s NZ Drought Index, but there’s no crystal ball.”
“Our farmers know that while hoping for the best, they need to plan for the worst.”
This dry spell is up to two months earlier than usual, and farmers would usually be in a better position to make plans about scaling down operations to get through.
“It’s early but experience and evidence shows that our farmers who make and stick to a plan to manage through drought are the ones who come out the other side in a better position to recover and move forward,” says Mr O’Connor. “It takes courage to make these difficult choices.”
“We know that these conditions can cause a lot of stress, compounded by the winter and spring conditions, and low morale. Our Rural Support Trusts are on the ground for us and keeping information flowing. Industry bodies are working with MPI and making sure our farmers have the technical knowledge to make their decisions.”
Mr O’Connor says that in the worst-case scenario, criteria for a medium-scale event could be met as early as January. A medium-scale event classification is based not just on soil moisture, but also on a rural community’s capacity to cope. It triggers additional Government recovery assistance measures such as further funding for Rural Support Trusts to provide events, technical transfer, and Rural Assistance Payments in rare cases of extreme hardship.
In the meantime, Government help is available as to all New Zealanders who face financial difficulty, such as Work and Income support should there be a significant change in family income.
“I know the festive season is as busy as any other on the farm and wish our farmers and growers a Merry Christmas,” says Mr O’Connor.
Questions and answers
What is NIWA’s outlook?
Dr Andrew Tait of NIWA says the lack of rain is being exacerbated by extremely warm sea surfaces around New Zealand, driving high air temperatures and leading to very high rates of evapotranspiration – up to 5mm or 6mm a day in some locations. This means any benefits of a rainy day can quickly disappear, and significant rainfall will be needed to get back to a normal summer situation.
How is the Ministry for Primary Industries monitoring the situation?
MPI is monitoring conditions daily at both a regional and national level. For example, the Manawatu-Whanganui (Horizons Region) Rural Coordination Group – Rural Support Trusts, Ministry for Primary Industries, Civil Defence Emergency Management and representatives from Federated Farmers, DairyNZ, Beef+Lamb NZ, and Fonterra – met yesterday to identify the status and required planning.
Where can farmers go for support?
Farmers are encouraged to use all information available from NIWA, government and industry bodies, and to use their Rural Support Trusts if they have concerns about the wellbeing of any family member, friend, worker or neighbour.