Reports of dams drying up and farmers struggling are increasing. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Lowest monthly rainfall in 72 years, farmers facing hardship
Fourth lowest monthly rainfall in 110 years

GIANINA SCHWANECKE
gianina.schwanecke@age.co.nz

With the lowest rainfall readings since the 1940s in coastal Wairarapa, and international market uncertainty, it’s time for Wairarapa farmers to lean on each other now more than ever.

Wairarapa Federated Farmers president William Beetham said on Monday everyone was nervous about the weather conditions affecting sales and operations.

“I’ve heard of people running out of water in dams,” he said.

And people with lambs or cows for sale were struggling to sell them “which is really unusual”.

PGG Wrightson Wairarapa area livestock manager Steve Wilkinson said store stock was still shifting but buyer’s interest was much lower.

“That’s due to a couple of things,” he said, “but the main one being the coronavirus [outbreak] having a major influence on the Chinese market and dry conditions across the lower North Island.

“We’ve had an extremely hot and windy January.”

He said this had created an oversupply and farmers were either finishing what they had or were not in a position to purchase.

“There’s not a lot of outlets for oversupply.”

While international market conditions were “still fluid”, he said the long-range forecast was hopeful.

Wilkinson said it was a tough time for farmers but one many were prepared for.

“They’ve been here before, so they know how to ride it out.

“They don’t have to look far to realise things could be a hell of a lot worse.

Castlepoint Station manager Jacques Reinhardt is no stranger to working in difficult conditions, although he noted this summer was proving particularly difficult.

“We always plan for the dry because it’s coastal Wairarapa,” he said.

“With farming, we do play to the averages to be a little conservative but it’s a lot drier than the average we usually farm for.”

He said November had been a record hot month with little rainfall.

“It was the fourth lowest rainfall we’ve ever had – in 110 years. It’s a bit shocking.”

Especially compared with the year before, when it “bucketed down” in late November and early December contributing to strong grass growth later on.

In November, he recorded only nine millimetres of rainfall.

This was followed by 36.5mm mostly at the tail end of December and 24mm last month.

These are more than 20-30mm below historical average.

Strong winds were another aggravating feature, he said.

“The wind pretty much hasn’t stopped since September.

“They say it sucks 10mm of water out of the ground a day.”

Wind speeds at Castlepoint averaged more than 4kmh, with some gusts even reaching 180kmh and a maximum of 211kmh.

By the start of December, the farm was down to its lowest stock numbers to prepare for the dry period.

“We sold most of our surplus lambs and other stock at the end of November.”

For remaining stock, they were supplementing feed with grain and baleage.

“It’s tricky with stock water and dams getting low too.”

Reinhardt said it was a difficult time for farmers, though there were parts of the country that were worse.

“It’s a lot more work and tough mentally at times but it’s what we do as farmers.

“We have a responsibility to take best care of these animals.

“I’m just trying to reach out and see how people are doing.”

East Coast Rural Support Trust clinical psychologist Sarah Donaldson said it was important for farmers to use their support channels.

“If things are building up and this is just another thing in your bucket, reach out,” she said.

“We’d rather people call us early rather than late.”

It was important for farmers to focus on what they could control and be mindful of ‘what if’ thinking.