20 Jan 2015

Close watch on dry spell - Govt

5:51 pm on 20 January 2015

The Minister for Primary Industries has met with farmers affected by a long dry spell and said conditions have not yet reached the point yet where the Government would consider declaring an adverse event for drought.

The Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy meets farmers in Ashburton

Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy meets farmers in Ashburton Photo: RNZ Patrick Phelps

The east of the South Island, particularly South Canterbury and North Otago, has not had any significant rain since spring last year.

The minister, Nathan Guy, was at a farm near Ashburton this morning and heard from farmers from the dairy, drystock, and cropping sectors.

The general messages were that while droughts of this level have happened before, this has come early, and may well cause heavily stocked farmers to lose irrigation they so desperately need.

Mr Guy heard first-hand reports on the impact that the dry conditions were having and said farmers were generally coping well.

"They've seen this dry period coming, they've made some early decisions, so I'm down here to find out today how they are coping and what I've heard is that they're coping reasonably well.

"What's different this time of the year is this is early, here we are in late January and we're in a significant dry period on the east coast of the South Island so it's early to be so dry. It could change and it can change very quickly, we'll need a lot of rain to turn this around."

Mr Guy said while the Government wasn't considering declaring an adverse event for drought at this point, it's keeping a close watch on the conditions as they worsen.

Drought conditions in mid-Canterbury, January 2015

Drought conditions in central Canterbury (January 2015) Photo: Jeremy Talbot

Federated Farmers representative Chris Allen, who hosted this morning's meeting, said the lack of rain was taking its toll in his area as well.

"Since June, we've probably been tracking at, well, less than half our normal rainfall and where there's no irrigation, you could say the grass is dead to look at.

"And the closer you get to the hills, where there's less irrigation, you could say those guys up there are starting to struggle quite a bit.

"As you get further down the plains, there's a lot of cropping land and some of those guys are actually harvesting and getting that out of the way - but crops they'll put in the ground will be pretty slow getting out, they'll need a bit more moisture to strike it."

He said farmers who acted early would handle the dry spell better than those who delayed decisions.

"Human nature is that you'll put off the decision if it's going to cost you a lot of money but some of those that are more conservative will say 'I'll make the decisions now and I'll have the comfort and sleep easier at night time' so that all comes in to play.

"The other thing with a drought - it's just one of those things that's just insidious, it just builds on week after week after week and the person can actually just not seek further help further out."

Water storage

The Minister said the Government would continue working with farmers to improve water storage and utilise the country's water.

Mr Guy said the Government was supportive of water storage projects, which he said were an asset for the nation, not just farmers.

"We only collect and store two percent of the rainfall in this country so we don't have a shortage of rain in New Zealand but it just falls at the wrong place, at the wrong time.

"So that's why the Government has a view that we'd love to see more water storage projects. Collect the rain when we can when there's an abundance, use it in the dry summer periods."