18 Mar 2013

Rain falls but nowhere near enough for farmers

8:15 pm on 18 March 2013

Rain fell throughout much of the country on Monday, following patchy showers on Sunday, but drought-stricken farmers say much more is needed.

Waikato farmers say about 12 millimetres has fallen, while Federated Farmers says Northland got 20 to 25 millimetres during the weekend. About 10m fell at Masterton.

Northland - the first region to be declared a drought zone last month - and Taranaki, Taupo and Bay of Plenty all got 15-30mm on Sunday.

However other North Island areas got less than 5mm over the weekend, while rain gauges in Nelson, Buller and Westland notched 15-25mm.

In Gisborne, there has been no rain at all so far; local sheep and beef farmer Hamish Cave says farmers need about 350mm in the next month to save the coming season.

Met Service says central New Zealand has received a fair amount of rain over the past two days, with heavy rain from Wanganui to the Tararua ranges.

Forecaster John Law says thunderstorms have dumped rain around Cape Kidnappers, Nelson and Marlborough. He says more showers are forecast on Tuesday, including in Hawke's Bay and parts of Gisborne, but a high is set to move over the rest of the country after that, bringing fine weather.

Federated Farmers' Wairarapa regional president Jamie Falloon says farms need steady, consistent rainfall of more than 50mm or so over the next few days. Some farmers say 100mm is required.

Too early to tell - Key

Prime Minister John Key says it's too early to tell what effect the drought will have on the Government's books.

Finance Minister Bill English has said it could cost the economy up to $2 billion and Mr Key acknowledges there's been some talk from the Treasury that it could cost about 0.7% of GDP, or between $1 billion and $1.5 billion.

But he says there are a lot of unknown factors, including how much it will rain and how many farmers stop milking, and at this stage the Government is not changing its spending plans.

Mr Key says the May Budget will contain a forecast based on the most up-to-date figures available.

Three-week wait possible at works

The extended dry spell has led to the entire North Island being officially declared in a state of drought, forcing dairy farmers to dry off herds earlier than usual and cut milk production.

But stock being sent to meatworks might have to wait three weeks before processing, because of high demand, and Waikato dairy farmer Chris Lewis says they will lose weight if they do.

South Wairarapa dairy farmer Stewart Barton, who normally runs more than 400 cows, says his business will lose about $100,000 this year because of destocking and drying off herds.

He said the cost of getting supplementary feed is about the same as the cost of milk produced by each cow.

Other Wairarapa farmers say their businesses face similar losses and Federated Farmers says at least six of them have taken up government financial assistance available in drought zones.

The West Coast last week became the first South Island region to request a drought declaration.

A rural support trust spokesperson, Dianne Milne, says the Grey and Buller districts have been very dry.