13 Apr 2010

Waikato drought committee established

5:04 pm on 13 April 2010

A drought committee has been formed in Waikato to co-ordinate relief to farmers and others affected by the dry conditions affecting the region.

Staff from Waikato Regional Council on Tuesday met representatives of a number of other agencies, including the Ministry of Agriculture, the Rural Support Trust and Federated Farmers.

A number of sub-committees have also been set up to look at specialist areas, such as farmer welfare, animal welfare and finance.

The region was included in an extended North Island drought zone last week.

Meeting organisers say 500 dairy herds have been dried off in Waikato this year due to dry conditions, compared with just 15 a year ago. Overall, dairy production in the region is down 25%.

Rural Support Trust chairman Neil Bateup says drought conditions are worse than in 2008 in North Waikato, South Auckland and the Hauraki Plains.

Mr Bateup says many well-established farmers will cope, though it will test their finances.

"The ones who probably need most assistance are perhaps some of the contract milkers, lower order sharemilkers, some of the young farmers that have just come into the industry."

Mr Bateup says it is very important that farmers who need help ask for it sooner rather than later.

Waikato Regional Council chairman Peter Buckley says if farmers put their hand up early there is a better chance of agencies being able to provide effective help. He says the situation is serious and neighbours need to look out for each other.

Before the meeting, Federated Farmers' Waikato president Stew Wadey says the agencies will be looking at what they can do to help farmers in the drought areas, where the situation is worsening.

He says a dry period in mid-autumn is grim, because there are only six weeks before pastures will struggle to grow in cooler temperatures.

Some rain is forecast for the region on Tuesday night and Wednesday, but at least 100 millimetres needs to fall over a long period.

Otago, Northland

Meanwhile light rain overnight on Monday in Otago has done little to relieve the dry conditions there.

The region has not had significant rainfall since the middle of last year.

Otago Federated Farmers' president Michael Lord says while farmers in the region are used to farming in dry conditions, this has been an extremely dry year.

He expects the region will be declared a drought zone in the next few weeks.

The family of Central Otago farmer Andrew Patterson has been recording rainfall levels on their farm for NIWA since 1948. He says the past ten years have been the driest on record.

He says there are concerns the supplementary feed farmers have been forced to buy in won't last till the end of winter.

In Northland, the Ministry of Agriculture says, the drought has cost the average farm $100,000.

The last big drought of 2007-2008 cost New Zealand $2.8 billion.

Average rainfall is expected in coming months, but NIWA says soil moisture is so low, it will take a couple of months to make a difference.