27 Jan 2017

Dry weather spells trouble for Northland farmers

6:48 pm on 27 January 2017

Extra blankets and raincoats haven't been far from reach in many parts of the country this summer, but farmers in Northland are worried they're in for another prolonged dry spell.

Cattle on a hill, Hawke's Bay.

Not just Northland: MetService said the dry weather was also causing trouble in Hawke's Bay, pictured, and Gisborne. Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

Federated Farmers Northland president John Blackwell said while there was a welcome burst of rain last week, strong winds have whisked most of the moisture away from the soil.

Dairy farmers were trying to source extra feed and looking at culling their herds. A lot of sheep and beef farmers had already de-stocked, while a wet October meant many crops had failed.

A drought has not been declared yet, but Mr Blackwell said the Northland Rural Support Trust and Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy have been monitoring the situation.

Mr Blackwell said, if the hot, dry weather continued for another two weeks, that could be reassessed.

"The last few summers in Northland have been very good summers - we've had good rain and it's been very productive. A few years ago we had a very severe drought, this hasn't got to quite that point in my area, which is Dargaville, but there are people in areas of Northland who say it's worse."

Mr Blackwell said a drought declaration would mean farmers would be able to access help through the rural support trust, their banks and companies like Fonterra.

But just how tough things get will depend on how long the hot, dry weather persists.

"If it goes on for two more months, then it becomes a very serious issue. At this point measures have been taken, there is support for farmers out there if they need a bit of moral support. I think farmers need to keep an eye on their neighbours - we don't want to see farmers who are completely stressed out and left on their own," Mr Blackwell said.

In a statement, Mr Guy said he visited a number of farms in the Puhi Puhi and Dargaville areas yesterday.

"It gave me the opportunity to see the dry conditions on the ground and discuss with farmers how they are coping," he said.

"There was some welcome rain recently ranging from 10-90mm in most places, which has provided some green tinges of regrowth, but constant dry winds are affecting soil moisture levels.

"It will need decent follow up rains for farmers to avoid having to make some tough decisions if this challenging dry period continues."

MetService communications meteorologist Lisa Murray said there might not be much relief in sight for Northland farmers.

"Hopefully they might see a few weather features in between the ridges of high pressure as we get into that summer pattern," she said.

"But generally it is a dry season, I'd say this is a particularly dry one."

But Ms Murray said Northland was not the only region desperately crying out for rain - Gisborne and Hawke's Bay were also sweltering.

Campgrounds make the most of the summer

There was an upside though - the hot, dry weather has been perfect for camping.

Many campgrounds have their own bore supplies, so they are not reliant on rainwater.

Bruce Barron and his wife, Helen, own the Motutara Farm campground at Whananaki North.

After last summer's mixed bag weather-wise, Mr Barron said this summer has been much better.

"We're full up right through. We traditionally stay full - obviously weather dependent - but this year's been a cracker for camping. I mean right through January, we've been absolutely crammed," he said.

"We're booked out this weekend and then it looks like the weather's staying good, so Waitangi weekend will be booked out as well."

But less lucky could be holiday-makers planning on heading to a bach over the long weekend.

The lack of rain has meant people in popular holiday spots north of Auckland, like Omaha, Leigh and Matakana, have been running out of water in their tanks.

Water supply companies can not keep up with the heavy demand, and Todd Ansell from Leigh Water Supplies said people could be waiting 10 or 15 days for a delivery to fill up their tanks.

"Definitely getting panic calls and people who have gone back to Auckland who can't use their bach, because they haven't got any water."

Mr Ansell said people should regularly check the water levels in their tanks, and book water deliveries well in advance.

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