Looking towards the Tararuas, north of Featherston. PHOTO/HAYLEY GASTMEIER
Wairarapa has plunged further along the official drought scale with the entire region now considered as ‘extremely dry’ with one section already considered as being in ‘drought’.
With Martinborough deep into a 34-day dry spell, and Masterton sitting at 12 days, farmers and crop growers are feeling the pinch.
The relentless hot, dry period is leading to low morale among farmers, with one saying it was the driest he had seen his farm in more than 20 years.
NIWA forecaster Ben Noll yesterday confirmed that parts of central Wairarapa – from north of Featherston, east towards Martinborough, and stretching up to Carterton – had been bumped up to the ‘drought’ category.
Masterton and the remaining areas of the Carterton district were categorised as ‘extremely dry’.
Last week, he told the Times-Age that it would take “some more weeks, if not a month” before reaching ‘drought’ category after only being classified as ‘very dry’ last week.
However, NIWA has classified the section of central Wairarapa as a meteorological drought – which is based on the climate rather than impacts on towns and farmers.
This area, as well as sections along Kapiti Coast and Horowhenua, are the only areas in the country to reach ‘drought’ this year.
“It’s been very warm, and dryness combined with lots of sunshine is a recipe for dryness,” Mr Noll said.
“Considering there hasn’t been really any rain, it’s not a shock – I’d say things are progressing as you’d expect with no rain.”
Wairarapa Federated Farmers meat and fibre chairman William Beetham said it was very unusual for the hot weather to be so early.
Farmers were selling off stock, but no one in the lower North Island was buying, Mr Beetham said.
At the same time, the pressure of Christmas was looming, and all stock water systems were under pressure.
Mr Beetham said it would be “unquestionably worse” if the weather were to remain the same for the next four weeks or more.
There were thousands, if not millions of dollars’ worth of crops in the ground across the region which would be lost if there was no rain, he said.
“It’s the perfect storm of something completely unusual and really knocking the morale of farmers.”
Wairarapa Eco Farm owner Frank van Steensel’s property is located in the meteorological ‘drought’ area along Moroa Rd.
The dry weather and water situation for Mr van Steensel was “critical”.
“We’ve had a rain deficit since about the end of October,” he said.
While he recycled their irrigation water, the aquifer where their water supply was drawn from, along with many other farmers, was looking low, he said.
“So, in the next six to eight weeks we may run out of water . . . It’s a serious concern.”
The prospect of running out of water has Mr van Steensel already in a “bad mood” which he usually felt at the end of January when the weather was typically at its hottest.
The farm’s olive crops can survive with minimal water, but the green houses and berry block could be threatened if water became an issue, along with the chickens, pigs and sheep.
Long-time Wairarapa dairy farmer Hank Van Den Bosch manages one farm at Papawai and two near Carterton.
It was the driest he had ever seen the region for this time of year, he said.
Mr Van Den Bosch said the conditions had him ‘scratching his head’ deciding on the best financial and animal welfare decisions to make.
“We are making decisions now that you can’t turn back the clock on – if you dry cows off they aren’t going to start milking again until August next year, any decision you make is impacting revenue right through to August.”
He has heard some dairy farmers are planning to have their herds dried off by February.
That means missing out on a third of their season’s production, he said.
MPI is the government body that assesses the severity of dry conditions and classify stages of drought.
The dry period for Wairarapa had not reached the criteria for medium or large-scale drought classification, MPI resource policy director Kate Hellstrom said.
“MPI doesn’t declare droughts, but help to identify if the impacts of a drought on the primary sector should be classified as a medium or large-scale adverse event, under the criteria in the Primary Sector Recovery Policy.”
The region is classified as a “watching brief”.
There could some relief ahead with morning showers expected to develop tomorrow, followed by a high of 22C.
Cherries by the bunch
With the lingering dry hot weather in Wairarapa, some fruit growers are not complaining.
Masterton’s average maximum temperature for the first 10 days of December was 28.3 degrees Celsius, according to Metservice.
Wharemuku orchard owner Spencer Southey’s latest cherry crop may be weeks ahead of schedule, but the growth has proven a success.
Mr Southey’s family-run 10-acre orchard along Kibblewhite Rd in Masterton has them picking healthy cherries at least two weeks earlier than normal.
While the unseasonal weather has bought picking time forward, it hasn’t given more crop, he said.
The peaches, plums and apples were all looking fruitful ahead of picking at the end of the year.
Usually, in drought, birds target certain apple varieties as a source of moisture, but Mr Southey has not seen this yet, he said.