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Drought support extended

The government has announced it is extending support to drought-stricken parts of the North Island.

“I have made the decision to expand the medium-scale adverse event classification already in place for parts of the South Island to also cover the Northland, Taranaki, Horizons and Greater Wellington regions including the Wairarapa,” Agricultural Minister Todd McClay said.

“The classification unlocks further support for farmers and growers, including tax relief, and enables the Ministry of Social Development to consider Rural Assistance Payments [RAP].

“Extremely dry and difficult conditions are affecting communities across the North Island, and conditions are not expected to improve soon.”

Up to $80,000 will also be provided to Rural Support Trusts in a number of areas, including Wairarapa, Tararua, and Horowhenu.

Wairarapa MP Mike Butterick said it has been a worrying few months for rural families and many agricultural businesses in Wairarapa, Tararua, and Central Hawke’s Bay districts.

“We may see some rain over the weekend, but this certainly won’t be enough to bring much relief.

“The extended dry has affected feed supply, and this will have a knock-on effect through 2024 for some farmers.

Butterick said that although the drought classification offers “some” financial respite, he urges all farmers to reach out to Work and Income for RAP, their banks and the Rural Support Trust.

East Coast Rural Support Trust area coordinator Sarah Donaldson said the funds will provide the not-for-profit with a “small top-up” for servicing and supporting the community.

Donaldson said the Trust has observed growing concern among farmers over the past two weeks.

“We are really aware it’s a tough combo right now,” she said, citing factors including last year’s cyclone, the tough economic climate, and rising stock prices, while some farmers are also in the thick of drought conditions.

“Even if we get rain this weekend, it’s now not going to be enough for some to do what it needs to do to get growth,” she said.

Donaldson also mentioned that the Rural Support Trust is advocating for the government to provide more flexibility regarding how the relief funds are invested to help farmers more and lighten their load.

“Anything that we can do practically is helpful for farmers, besides business as usual,” she said.

Rural Communities Minister Mark Patterson noted farmers in the lower North Island, including Wairarapa and the Tararua district, are still recovering from Cyclone Gabrielle in February last year.

“Some farm dams are starting to dry up, and winter supplementary feed is already being fed to livestock,” he said.

“The Ministry for Primary Industries [MPI] has been working with sector groups, regional bodies, and farmers to prepare for El Niño since its arrival last year, and continues to monitor the situation to determine where additional support is needed.

“MPI will work closely with local rural advisory groups, drought committees, and Rural Support Trusts to determine if additional support is needed.”

The technical medium-scale adverse event is used to distinguish between the Niwa classification of a meteorological drought, which is based on soil moisture levels, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

The ministry’s drought classification and support are based on the “experienced conditions”, such as how farmers are faring and how much feed is available.

Greater Wellington Regional Council [GWRC] released a statement saying it supported the drought declaration in Wairarapa.

The council advocated for the declaration alongside the Wairarapa Drought group, consisting of local and central government agencies, the Rural Support Trust, and Federated Farmers.

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