23 Mar 2013

Under 100 farmers expected to ask for drought grant

4:32 pm on 23 March 2013

Federated Farmers is expecting fewer than 100 farmers nationwide to take up the Government's drought assistance hardship grants.

The drought declaration for Buller and Grey District this week is the first for the South Island; all of the North Island is already an official drought zone.

The declaration enables government funding to be available through the Rural Support Trust, as well as Work and Income.

The federation's adverse events spokesperson says she is waiting for figures to come from the Economic Development Ministry showing how many farmers have applied.

Katie Milne says rain earlier this week has not broken the drought, which is turning out to be similar to that experienced in 2008 when about 100 farmers applied for grants.

She says farmers will qualify for the grant only if they are bankrupt - or very close to it - and are struggling to buy food.

"The feedback I'm getting is that people are saying, 'Oh farmers are getting something we're not' - and it's not like that at all.

"It is a safety net for those who have really reached rock bottom - no cashflow left, don't know where their next mouthful's coming from."

Ms Milne says recent rain has helped some parts of the country - but the issue now is the onset of winter, with low ground temperatures and rainfall which will not help grass growth for stock feed.

She says many farmers are also reporting the smell of rotting pasture as the rain introduces mould to brown grass in paddocks, which ruins the feed.

Federated Farmers says the drought declaration for the West Coast is a morale booster for farmers - but that's about it.

West Coast dairy chairperson Richard Reynolds says the declaration reassures farmers of the seriousness of the issue and will help with planning, but won't be much of a financial aid for most.

Mr Reynolds says many farmers are struggling with the pressure to make decisions about drying up stock now.

"The mental side and the pressure side of farming is there at the moment, because people are having to make big decisions around drying large numbers of cows off or drying all their cows off. So they're not making any money in the next two months - that cashflow will affect them for the next five months."

Records from the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research on soil moisture show it has been the driest period on the West Coast in 41 years.