30 Jun 2016

South Island drought to be longest ever

8:08 pm on 30 June 2016

North Canterbury farmers could be forced to walk off their land if the lack of rain persists.

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Photo: RNZ/ Patrick Phelps

Hurunui District mayor Winton Dalley made the comment as the official drought period for the South Island's east coast was extended. It has now lasted two years - the longest the country has ever seen.

North Canterbury has been one of the hardest hits areas with rainfall currently at only about 50 to 60 percent of the area's long-term average.

So far, no farmers have had to leave their land, Mr Dalley said.

"They went in with very strong balance sheets two years ago and some good supply of feed initially. That's probably carried them through until this point, but from here on it's going to be quite a struggle."

Speaking after Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy officially extended the drought period, Mr Dalley said the district had received just half the amount of rain it would normally get over the past 18 months.

Winton Dalley

Winton Dalley Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

He said if this continued, some would struggle to continue farming.

"There's farms here, and we're visiting one this afternoon where there are no animals left on the farm, they've been away for some months.

"They intended to come back for lambing in a months time but when the minister sees that today, it might be hard to understand how sheep can come back on that farm."

The farm he is talking about belongs to Nick Hamilton.

Nick Hamilton

Nick Hamilton Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

Mr Hamilton told those gathered to hear today's announcement that, in the past year, he had spent $120,000 grazing stock outside the district and bringing in feed.

After two years of not enough rain he would have to re-sow the grass in his paddocks before he could graze stock again.

He was in survival mode.

"People are just doing what they can to get through this.

"You go and have a beer with somebody or go to somebody's place for tea, the conversation always gets back to the drudgery of how much money we've spent [on feed], so it's pretty hard to get past it."

Production on Andy Fox's farm, meanwhile, is down 22 percent.

The drought had taken the fun out of farming, he said.

"Farming is prick of a job with reference to the hours, it's not that pleasant, and the reason we as farmers do it is our connection with the land but also we also actually really enjoy farming with livestock [and] interacting with other farmers and the drought has taken a little bit of that sparkle out of my job."

The official extension of the drought brings with it an extra $88,000 for Rural Support Trusts, bringing the government's total contribution since the drought was first declared to $500,00.

Andy Fox

Andy Fox Photo: RNZ/Conan Young

The money will be used to provide support for farmers feeling the mental strain of having to sell off stock and see generations of hard work go down the drain.

The money is sufficient and farmers were not interested in handouts, Mr Guy said.

"Farmers know that subsidies were removed in the mid 1980's.

"Since then, farmers have been standing on their own two feet, they're not interested in a government handout. What they're interested in is making sure that Wellington knows that they are experiencing a lot of heartache on farm," he said.

Official figures show the past six months have been the warmest on record for the country and Mr Guy faced questions today about the government's strategy for tackling climate change.

As well as addressing agricultural emissions, the government would continue putting money into irrigation schemes so that farmers were not continually at the mercy of the elements, he said.