11 Jan 2018

Heavy rain could bring drought relief

7:59 am on 11 January 2018

There could be much-needed rain on the way for parched farmers on the West Coast of the South Island.

Minister for Agriculture and Rural Communities Damien O'Connor on Wednesday added the Grey and Buller Districts to the list of drought-hit regions covered by last month's medium scale adverse event declaration.

Niwa forecaster Chris Brandolino said rainfall is forecast for the West Coast over the next few days, with over 100 millimetres expected in areas from Murchison south to Hokitika.

He said that rain would go some way to relieving parched farmers, because it's coming over a couple of days, rather than in one big downpour.

"For example, if 100ml falls over three days, that'll be much more beneficial than if it fell over 12, 18 or 24 hours, because a lot of that high intensity rain tends to run off, particularly when the ground is hard and dry."

MetService has issued a severe weather warning for Buller and Westland, with outbreaks of heavy rain forecast until early Friday.

Longer term, the Niwa outlook for the next three months is for rainfall to be normal or above normal for the West Coast.

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said it had been very dry over much of the country this summer.

"It's been a tough time and erratic weather for farmers up and down the country, but this latest declaration on the West Coast is an indication that even in areas like this, we can have unusual climatic conditions that do make it really tough for farmers."

The New Zealand Drought Monitor.

The New Zealand Drought Monitor. Photo: Niwa

'Summer crops have failed'

Reefton dairy farmer Ross Thawley has been in the area for the past 12 years and he's never seen it this dry.

Last week the paddocks were brown. While there's a tinge of green colour to them now, there's still no grass.

Mr Thawley said they plan for dry summers, but this year it's hit them early.

"Summer crops have failed and we've basically got through all our silage already - that's both the stuff we had in reserve and we're getting to the end of our silage that was supposed to be next winter's feed."

Mr Thawley said feed is a big problem for farmers in the area. Balage is in short supply and the price of palm kernel's going up.

It was raining last night in Reefton, but Mr Thawley said if it doesn't keep raining, and they get some grass growth, farmers would be in trouble and feed shortages heading into winter were a possibility.

"I normally on an average year buy two unit loads of straw to feed during the winter, with brasica crops that we've grown. This year I've put in an order for eight unit loads," he said.

Federated Farmers president Katie Milne was urging farmers across the country to plan carefully heading into winter, in case their usual supplementary feed supplies weren't available or were running low.

A drought was declared in Taranaki, Manawatu-Whanganui and Wellington just before Christmas.

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