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Dry summer has farmers sweating

Wairarapa Farmers say dry conditions are business as usual, but they could face another financial strain if it extends over the coming months.

Castlepoint Station owner Anders Crofoot said although drought-like conditions haven’t hugely impacted the economy now, if it continues into autumn it could start to “hurt” farmers.

Crofoot believes Wairarapa farmers were resilient because hot and dry conditions are typical to the region.

Fortunately, he was able to de-stock “reasonably heavily” because NIWA forewarned a dry summer – unlike the past two seasons where they experienced unusual rainfall.

“If you don’t have feed and have to de-stock, the store prices aren’t fantastic, but there is a market,” he said.

“Cattle prices have held up reasonably well, sheep meat prices are nowhere near as good as what they have been.

“The poor prices for sheep, for lambs through the spring and even the prime prices have been back – especially for ewes – have taken a fairly high bite out of our budgeted income.”

He said the farm was in good shape but there was a plan in place if the region was without long-term rain.

Crofoot believed it was fortunate New Zealand is a microclimate because if farmers had to de-stock, demand remained in other parts of the country.

But, if they experience a nationwide drought, livestock may not be able to be passed on and finished, which would take a cut out of farmers’ income, he said.

“There have been years where we are dry over more of New Zealand; that’s pretty devastating.

“You pretty much have to give stock away,” he said.

Federated Farmers president David Hayes said conditions would become difficult if rain came late in autumn because farmers wouldn’t have enough winter pastoral growth.

He said scientists have reported there will be more weather extremes from climate change, meaning the Wairarapa will have frequent, long, dry summers.

“We’ve gone from going from severe cyclones and storms and bad weather to dry conditions all within a 12-month period.”

“It’s why we need better strategies around water for the Wairarapa.”

Wairarapa will “dry up” without one, he said.

Hayes is “keen” to see more energy put into a Wairarapa water resilience strategy, which would include regulatory environment that allows for small and large-scale water storage on farms and large off-site systems.

“There have been major initiatives, a lot of engineering and government funding, trying to increase water storage, but they’ve come up against environmental regulatory hurdles,” he said.

“They just stopped dead in their tracks.”

“Water resilience and availability of water is going to be needed over the years ahead.

Greater Wellington’s Draught check said The National Drought Index indicates Wairarapa is “very dry as a whole” and “extremely dry” in some areas, such as the southern coast and northeastern Valley.

“February will likely be the driest month of the season”.

NIWA reported that dry conditions meant Wairarapa continued to be categorised as a ‘hotspot zone’.

This is due to little rainfall, resulting in “severely drier than normal” soil due to a moisture deficit.

NIWA’s Seasonal Climate Outlook from February to April said temperatures have a 65 per cent chance of being above average.

They said rainfall totals are estimated to have a 40 per cent chance of being below normal and a 35 percent chance of being near normal.

“The odds for below-normal rainfall are elevated during February.”

“The current El Niño/Southern Oscillation [ENSO] has matured and is now expected to start to decline towards autumn.

“El Niño autumns have historically been associated with reduced rainfall in parts of the region.”

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