12 Mar 2014

Farmers hoping for rain, not deluge

9:10 am on 12 March 2014

Farmers on Northland's west coast are waiting to find out whether a tropical storm expected this weekend ends their weather woes or makes things worse.

There has been no rain there since Christmas and Northland Rural Support Trust co-ordinator Julie Jonker said at least 100mm is needed over a period of days to make a difference.

MetService is warning of strong winds and heavy rain as a cyclone blows in from the north-east.

Ms Jonker said it would be a blessing if the rain falls but a heavy downpour on parched land could be disastrous, running straight off and causing flooding. Even if the west gets the rain it needs, it would take a month before any new grass was ready.

Dry pasture in Dargaville.

Dry pasture in Dargaville. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

DairyNZ adviser Kylie  Harnett at her Northland farm.

DairyNZ adviser Kylie Harnett at her Northland farm. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

Dairy New Zealand advisor Kylie Harnett, who farms in Bayly's Beach Road, said five of the last six summers on Northland's west coast has been affected by drought. She said farmers prepare for dry summers by growing extra feed but many have had crops fail from a lack of rain or been forced to harvest early to feed hungry stock.

She is spending $2000 a day buying in feed for her cows and drying them off at the rate of 20 every few days. The worst-affected are farmers whose cows are due to calve in just a few weeks time and need fresh green grass, she said.

Hal Harding, who farms on Pouto Road, said the grass stopped growing not long after Christmas and, apart from a small area he irrigates with cow-shed effluent and a paddock of herbs he is trialling, there is no green to be seen on his land.

Feeding his herd is costing him $2,700 a day and he has been sending some stock away to graze off-farm. With about half his herd due to calve in a couple of weeks, he said he cannot afford not to rack up the feed bills.

Mr Harding said he would never sell up, but knows of two local farmers who have had enough and are off to the South Island this week, looking for greener pastures.

He said there was not a lot the Government can do, unless the Prime Minister's up to leading a rain-dance of Cabinet ministers Kaipara. But it may be time the district started to consider irrigation projects, and accepted Government help available to investigate that option.

Ms Harnett said the impact of drought is felt well beyond the farm-gate. The whole community loses out, when farmers put off servicing their bikes and machinery, don't go to the hairdresser or doctor and don't buy as many groceries as usual, she said.

Northland Rural Support Trust's Julie Jonker said five dry summers have depleted not just supplementary feed stores, but also the spirits of farmers who were hoping for just one good season to make the most of high farmgate milk prices.

She was keen to hear from anyone with grazing to offer or baleage to sell and is advising any farmers worried about their finances to talk to their banks and accountants and ring the Trust for information and support.