Weekend Rain Doesn't End Drought

NEW ZEALAND - Federated Farmers welcomes the weekend’s rain but in the drought declared areas farms will take time to recover even if more rain follows.
calendar icon 20 December 2010
clock icon 5 minute read

“While the weekend rain is welcome, this dry season will dramatically affect our farmer's profitability. Some are selling stock early, buying in supplementary feed and reducing their herds to once a day milking,” says David Rose, Federated Farmers adverse events spokesperson.

“It’s important to remember that this isn’t a nationwide problem. Some regions have been doing surprisingly well but everything is dependent on a change in weather pattern that will hopefully see a regular supply of rain, not irregular dumps.

“Overall, most farmers agree that the current conditions are basically dry February conditions, obviously several months too early.

“It is worth remembering that the last serious drought, in 2007/08, cost the national economy $2.8 billion according to a study done for MAF.

“This isn’t just a cost for farmers, but also flows on to their rural communities and our entire economy as a whole.

“This national downpour comes as a nice Christmas treat but we’re not getting our hopes up. Let’s hope for more of it,” he concluded.

Some of our farmers gave us a heads up on how the last week’s rainfall affected their regions (please note that these are not official figures).

“Northland was declared a drought zone on December 8, so this rain was welcomed. While one of our farmers saw as much as 264mls last week most were much lower hovering around the 100mls mark. Soil conditions are approaching field capacity however the earlier dry spell has already done significant damage. Dairy production is expected to be 15% behind last year, which was very badly effected by last year’s drought.

“Auckland has seen around 20mls in dribs and drabs across December, too little to have any real effect on growth. Sunday saw 30mls but the region realistically needs about twice that, sustained for an extended period. Our farmers on the East Coast of Auckland are reporting around 50mls and South Auckland around 40mls.

“Waikato, New Zealand’s largest dairying region was declared a drought zone on December 15. Fortunately, the region has seen around 70mls of rain, but another 50mls would be appreciated. Many of our farmers have already moved their stock on to supplementary feed. Realistically, the damage has already been done but rain will go some way to recovering some grass for January. The best we can hope for is an average season.

“Ruapehu was included in the Waikato drought declaration. Similarly, it has only seen 22mls of rain in November, compared to roughly 94mls that has fallen in this period in previous years. Around 114mls has fallen since Friday.

“Hawkes Bay is seeing a nice wet spring with around 2000mls of rain for the year so far, up from the usual annual average of around 1400mls. The last week has seen around 15-50mls, but there are some anomalies; Dannevirke has just come off its driest November in 100 years.

“Gisborne-Wairoa has seen an average of around 165mls across the last two months, and the region is considered to be in good shape leading into Christmas.

“The Bay of Plenty has had a rough three months of dry weather but the heavens have dumped around 100-150mls over the last four days, which will improve things enormously as the season wears on. This has been regional though and some farmers have reported as little as 4mls across the last week, so fingers crossed. There’s a lot of summer left.

“Last week Taranaki began the process to declare a medium scale drought event for the region and Minister for Agriculture David Carter was due to make the call sometime this week. The Taranaki Rural Support Trust has now put this application on hold after Taranaki saw some good rainfall in the northern and eastern areas. This will be reviewed week to week.

“The West Coast has seen some pretty decent amounts through the middle regions. Westland saw around 122mls following a November and December that farmers described as ‘chronically dry’. Westland is around six weeks ahead of where it usually is at this time of the year. But in areas like North Westland the damage has already been done and the season as a whole looks average at best.

“Nelson looked like it was going to be a drought area also but has seen around 80-150mls with more forecasted to follow. Again, a lot of damage has been done and farmers are reporting significant drops in silage and hay and the possibility of having to re-sow crops.

“Similarly our Golden Bay farmers are reporting that the drought seems to have broken, with some farms reporting a 295mls in three days last week and more forecasted to follow shortly.

“Mid-Canterbury and Christchurch are very dry, with figures of around 12mls and 15-20mls respectively. Both are expecting a hot new year, so we can’t read too much into that.

“South Canterbury has had 45mls in November and 27mls in December, compared to the yearly average of 64mls and 80mls respectively. Our farmers tell me the ground is pretty hard underfoot. A decent rain (50-100mls) in the next week would get the region through the summer and provide an opportunity to catch up on hay and silage.

“Otago has had a good spring and stocked up on silage and hay but inland is seeing low soil moisture that could be problematic if rain doesn’t arrive soon. Central Otago, particularly the Wanaka and Tarras regions are very dry and have not really recovered from last autumn’s drought. They are the biggest areas of concern in Otago. On the Taieri this week we had thunder showers that gave between 18 to 42mls and were gratefully received.

“In November Southland is seeing rainfall at around half the long term average of 42mls. On my farm I have seen just 11mls so far in December. Last year was 115mls so we need a decent fall. We are a bit worried that this is starting to look very similar to the beginning of the 1956 drought.

“So while it is very nice to get a week of some relatively decent rain, most of our regions are as dry, if not drier than last year. With a lot summer yet to come, more regular rainfall has to be on every farmers New Years wish list,” he concluded.

TheCattleSite News Desk

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