For the year-to-date, Southland has received about 56% of its normal rainfall and coastal areas only 49%.
The Government has classified the drought conditions in Southland and Clutha and Queenstown Lakes districts as a medium-scale adverse event, acknowledging the challenging conditions facing farmers and growers in the region.
The decision unlocks up to $100,000 in Government funding to support farmers and growers from now until October
“The funding will go to the Southland and Otago Rural Support Trusts to help with both one on one support and community events, with extra technical advice also available from industry groups, including feed planning advice,” Minister for Rural Communities Damien O’Connor said.
“Our primary sector is crucial to our economic recovery from covid-19. While currently returning record exports, the sector is exposed to climatic events and where we can support them through we will, while also working in partnership to strengthen the climate resilience of the sector in future.”
Environment Southland integration manager Nick Perham says the council is considering the implications of water restrictions.
“With very little rainfall predicted over the next few weeks, we urge all Southlanders to look at their water use and consider areas where they can conserve this,” Perham said.
WeatherWatch senior forecaster Philip Duncan sees little likelihood of respite rain in the coming weeks, saying that optimistically 20mm of rain could fall over the lower South Island in the next two weeks.
He said a stubborn high pressure system continues to dominate southern South Island weather patterns, as it largely has done since spring.
“It’s a very settled pattern really and there is not much rain in the forecast,” Duncan said.
The dry conditions are starting to spread into Otago, where farmers are also preparing to feed out winter supplements.
Perham said for the year-to-date, Southland has received about 56% of its normal rainfall and coastal areas only 49%
The substantial Mataura and Oreti Rivers are now at flows experienced on average every three to six years.
Coastal Southland is the hardest hit, with the Mokoreta River at levels experienced on average every 50 years, the Waikawa River 42 years and the Waihopai River 14 years.
Central Southland waterways are at levels experienced every 12 to 24 years.
The situation is being called a perfect storm with meat companies forced to reduce capacity just as farmers need to quit stock due to the impact of covid-19 on staff and their families.
“The ability for farmers to manage the current dry conditions is being seriously hampered by staff shortages created by community covid-19 in both the rural servicing industry and the processing companies,” Southland Rural Support Trust chair Cathie Cotter said.
Pasture covers and winter crops are well below average, but time is running out for recovery as the growing season shortens every day through autumn without rain.
Community groups are organising social gatherings to get people off farms and talking to each other.
The Southland Rural Support Trust, along with DairyNZ and Beef + Lamb New Zealand, are holding seminars to provide advice for farmers to help manage the dry conditions.
MPI director rural communities and farming support Nick Story acknowledges the pressure facing southern farmers.
He said meat and dairy processing companies are working to help ease pressure on farmers.
“We are keeping in close contact with the local rural support trusts, regional councils, and farming industry groups who are monitoring conditions on the ground,” Story said.