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Farmers in for drought ‘long haul’

Dry paddocks looking out over Tauwera early this year. PHOTO/SUPPLIED


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Farmers are in for the long haul as the region rapidly climbs the drought index ladder.

Central Wairarapa is now deemed as being in ‘severe drought’ – the most extreme level of drought.

The rest of the region remains in ‘drought’.

Wairarapa’s ‘widespread meteorological drought’ was described by NIWA forecaster Ben Noll as “an uphill battle” that would take more than a couple of significant rains to get anywhere near back to normal.

The area between Carterton and Lake Wairarapa is considered in meteorological severe drought.

The Minister for Agriculture and Rural Communities, Damien O’Connor, has urged farmers to “plan for the worst”.

Mr O’Connor acknowledged that Tararua and parts of Wairarapa were under pressure.

A section of central Wairarapa is considered to be in ‘meteorological severe drought’, while the rest of the region remains in ‘meteorological drought’. PHOTO/NIWA

But, in worst case scenario, these areas could meet the criteria of ‘medium-scale’ event as early as January.

The classification is based on soil moisture, and the rural community’s capacity to cope, he said.

Mr Noll said last week’s rain was just a “small drop in the bucket compared to what is needed”.

Farmers could remain hopeful that the front crossing the region on Boxing Day would bring a decent top up of rain, he said.

“But then it turns dry again through to the end of December — you are talking about another 10 days or so below normal rainfall, unfortunately it’s not a great situation at this point in terms of dryness.”

Looking forward, come the end of January some rain is predicted.

“But what’s predicted is not going to get the region out of the situation it’s in.”

More than four or five bands of rain, up to 25mm, will be needed “to get back to remotely close to normal”, he said.

Wairarapa Federated Farmers president Jamie Falloon said the rain last week “ticked things along” for the summer crops.

Mr Falloon said he was in a better situation now, compared to a few weeks ago, after ticking off weaning, selling off of stock and the recent 30 odd millimetres rain he recorded.

There will be less pressure on farmers now, but “it’s still going to be a real challenge”.

While the temperature and soil moistures reflected that of late January, Mr Falloon said Wairarapa farmers were used to dealing with dry summers.

“It’s just that it happened so quickly.”

Carterton Mayor and farmer John Booth shared the same relief after seeing crops had sprouted on his farm after having received about 30mm of rain last week.

While a small section of his land can be irrigated, the rest was under quite severe moisture stress, he said.

“What I’ve noticed is the re-growth on those drier areas is virtually zero, so we are going backwards at a fast rate.

“Unless there is a real dramatic change in weather patterns, it won’t be till autumn, in my experience, that we will see significant growth come back . . . so we are in for the long haul.”

Mr Booth said the acknowledgement of the ‘drought’ by the government had no real effect on farmers.

“Long gone are the days when farmers got payments . . . declaring a drought only opens access to avenues for assistance.”

Gray’s Contracting owner Shane Gray said the hay season was over for him, a season which typically saw him right through to the end of January.

Mr Gray said he was “really concerned” and admitted he had not had a season like this in his 27 years in the business.

He was holding out hope for the grain harvest, such as barley, in late January, which can survive on minimal rain.

Mr Gray said people thought the wet winter water levels would keep farmers going through the summer.

The dry weather had a ‘vicious circle’ effect, meaning no crops were growing, therefore no fertiliser was sold and so on.

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