9 Mar 2015

Drought-stricken farmers still without rain

2:00 pm on 9 March 2015

South Canterbury and North Otago farmers been left wondering, 'Where's our share?', after a weekend of rain across the South Island that drenched some areas, but left the regions that have been feeling the effects of drought the longest still gasping for moisture.

The water supply for the North Bruce Rural Water Scheme is running critically low.

Water supply in North Otago is running critically low. Photo: SUPPLIED

South Canterbury's Federated Farmers president Ivon Hurst said the foothills got some rain and there was a shower or two on the coast, but not a skerrick where he farms, midway between Timaru and Fairlie.

"So nothing has changed for the week. In fact, we were talking to the chief fire officer for South Canterbury last week and he was saying the South Canterbury coastal area was the driest point in New Zealand.

"They use a slightly different method of gauging dryness compared to NIWA, gauging soil temperatures as well. On their scale, drought is 300, and for the South Canterbury coastal area, the scale is at 625, so that is dry."

Mr Hurst says there's no prospect of relief either in the weather outlook.

"We see the MetService 10-15 days out predicting light winds and rain, and they've been saying that ever since November, which means they don't know.

"So where we're at now, in terms of farming and feed, is plan B, C, D, and E, as farmers adjust every week to maintain stock and work ahead to where they will be in the middle of winter."

Mr Hurst said farmers in dryland areas have already got rid of as many stock as they could and farmers in dairying areas, who were now cut off from their irrigation water, were also reducing milkings and drying off cows.

North Otago Farmers president Richard Strowger said that their region also largely missed out on the latest rain, getting only five to 10 mm.

And he was advising farmers to go and look at winter feed supply before buying it or sending stock to graze on farms.

He said the region was facing a shortage of winter feed, and was 35 to 50 percent down on the amount of feed there normally is at this time of year.

He said it was a combination of a lack of rain and an increase in the number of dairy cows in North Otago, and that it would depend on the weather between now and mid April as to how much of the loss could be recovered.

Mr Strowger said it was likely feed would need to be imported from other provinces, and that farmers needed to plan carefully.

"The main message is for everybody if you're buying winter feed is to go and have a look at it for yourself and, if you're selling it, make early contact so that people don't turn up with 1000 cows and you can only feed 500.

"If it's left to the last minute, there will be people who miss out or are disappointed or don't have options. If they get in early, they have options, they can make decisions - they may not like them but they have got decisions they can make, you know people need to get out there and have a look for themselves.

"And just because one farmer says he can feed 500 cows, when you go and look at it as a dairy farmer you might think to yourself, well, I think he can feed 200. It needs to be a two-way street of actually looking at it and working out how much feed they can actually feed."

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