Large parts of the South Island have officially been declared in drought.
The drought declaration was made by the Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy this morning as he visited farmers in South Canterbury.
The declaration covers parts of Otago, Canterbury and Marlborough which have experienced record dry conditions for most of the summer.
Dairy farmers, already struggling with a record low milk price, have been particularly hard hit.
The drought is being described as a medium-sized adverse event.
Mr Guy said the South Island has had its driest January in 43 years.
He said the announcement comes with an extra $200,000 for rural support trusts to provide grants to farmers and tax breaks for those who need them.
"If you look at what's happening with rural fires, they're just popping up all over the place at the moment, it's a real concern. We've taken into account all the economic and social factors, and feed availability."
Nathan Guy said farmers will also be eligible for Work and Income benefits, although he doubts many will need that sort of help.
The declaration means the Government will provide extra funding to rural support trusts who could in turn help farmers in need.
The support will available over the next few months and can be accessed through Work and Income offices.
Mr Guy said the Government was also keeping a very close eye on Wairarapa and southern Hawkes Bay, which are also suffering from very dry conditions.
Federated Farmers South Canterbury president Ivon Hurst said farmers there will welcome the drought declaration.
He said as far as they were concerned the region had been in drought for two months already, but the declaration at least brings official recognition of the conditions.
And he said there were other benefits too:
"Where there might be an advantage, is where farmers are going to bankers with their accountants, to talk about securing winter feed with reduced incomes and having to buy it in, because that's exactly what's going to have to happen, particularly in the dairy industry.
"They won't have to get down on their knees to beg for recognition. They will know that because the Government has recognised the situation that in fact it does exist."
Mr Hurst said rain in South Canterbury in the past week brought some light relief and perked up winter feed crops, but was nowhere near a drought breaker.
Prime Minister John Key said there is no doubt the very dry conditions have been hitting some hard.
But, he said: "On the other side of the coin our farmers are immensely resilient. They've faced these conditions before, they've faced floods before and all sorts of other climatic conditions, so they are very good at hunkering down and they will again but we need to give them the support we can."
There are three levels of 'adverse events' - localised, medium and national. These can cover events like drought, floods, fire, earthquakes and other natural disasters.
The criteria for assessing the scale of an adverse event are:
- Options available for the community to prepare for and recover from the event
- Magnitude of the event (likelihood and scale of physical impact)
- Capacity of the community to cope economically and socially impact.