21 Apr 2010

Farmers in drought-hit regions seek help

3:27 pm on 21 April 2010

Up to 15 farmers a day in drought-hit areas of Waikato have been calling a helpline to ask for income assistance and other help.

The Government has extended the official drought zone for the second time in a month to include Bay of Plenty, South Taranaki and parts of South Canterbury and Otago.

The drought zone started with Northland in January, and earlier in April was extended to include Waikato, Hauraki and Coromandel.

Waikato Rural Support Trust chairman Neil Bateup says farmers in some areas have now endured two dry years in a row.

In Northland, seven farming families have been receiving income support payments of $317 a week since February. Rural Support Trust coordinator Helen Moodie says those affected are primarily dairy farmers. Most of them are low order share milkers who do not have assets to borrow against.

Otago Federated Farmers president Mike Lord says the area from Ida Valley through Middlemarch and Hyde towards Alexandra are the worst affected.

Federated Farmers' adverse events spokesperson, David Rose, says the dry conditions are so widespread it almost warrants a national drought status.

Agriculture Minister David Carter says local Rural Support Trusts will be mobilised in the new drought areas to provide support for farmers and rural communities.

Mr Carter says there will also be assistance from Inland Revenue, with some farmers eligible for income support.

Meanwhile, the Tasman District Council has stepped up water restrictions as dry weather continues in Nelson.

Water permit holders on the Waimea Plains have had their water take further restricted, and are now allowed just 65% of normal usage. In urban areas, including Richmond and Mapua, garden hose restrictions are in place.

In Australia, there has been a dramatic easing of drought conditions in New South Wales. The ABC reports that only about 7% of the state remains in drought.