Thursday, April 25, 2024

Govt calls adverse event for dry top of the south

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Declaration will provide support, tax breaks for struggling farmers.
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By Neal Wallace and Annette Scott

The government has declared drought conditions at the top of the South Island a medium-scale adverse event.

The areas included are Marlborough, Tasman and Nelson and the declaration will provide support for farmers and growers, including measures involving tax liabilities.

Rural Communities Minister Mark Patterson said his decision follows a meeting this week of the district’s drought committee and an update from the Ministry for Primary Industries.

Federated Farmers Marlborough president Evan White said rainfall in the past nine months was the lowest in 94 years, soil moisture is in deficit, there is a shortage of stock water and farmers are selling young livestock.

“No two ways about it, it is serious and it should be called,” he said.

Doing so will provide tax concessions and additional funding for support groups such as the Rural Support Trust, which has already been given $20,000.

“The money for farmers to pay tax is not there. It has been used to buy in feed and for sending stock to grazing,” said White.

Late summer dry conditions are spreading from Otago to the lower North Island and Northland and Weather Watch chief forecaster Philip Duncan warns there is little likelihood of any reprieve as traditional El Niño patterns dominate for the next few weeks.

“High pressure systems will control the weather for the next week or two, meaning places that are dry will continue to get drier.”

Cold wet fronts are not advancing beyond Southland and Fiordland due to high pressure systems dominating the eastern half of Australia and all of NZ as El Niño patterns are not expected to ease until late April or May.

“Until we get high-pressure zones breaking up in the Tasman, that’s when we will get proper rain.”

The dry is biting hard in South Canterbury, with stock water now running low and dairy farmers dropping to once-a-day milking.

“We are in a bad way, it’s been dry since before Christmas, stock water availability is now a problem and winter feed crops are struggling,” Federated Farmers provincial president Greg Anderson said.

With the Opuha Dam running dry and the rivers feeding Opuha low, shareholder farmers have been on irrigation restrictions, many since early February.

“There’s a lot of silage being fed out; the autumn feel is setting in. It’s going to be a long winter.”

“Store stock has been okay, but it has slowed now as agents find moving stock has become more difficult.

“A good, slow, soaking rain is on order and while it won’t help grass growth it will certainly help winter feed crops.”

“Yes, it’s dry,” said North Canterbury Feds provincial president Karl Deans.

“In a normal year it wouldn’t be so much of an issue but with low returns and high interest rates putting more pressure on, it’s all compounded.”

A meeting called by the Hurunui adverse events committee last week confirmed the need for prudent farm management through autumn.

“This is not an abnormal summer but after two summers wetter than normal, this has come as a shock to some, particularly farmers new to the region.

“At this stage it’s not an unmanageable event, but if rain doesn’t eventuate mid to late autumn, then things will change,” Deans said.

North Otago Federated Farmers president Myfanwy Alexander said irrigation schemes are struggling to keep pace with demand and drying from constant wind.

Hawke’s Bay is also drying out with February rainfall half the long-term average, but Federated Farmers president Jim Galloway described conditions as seasonal.

The concerning factor is that farmers have more lambs on farm than usual for this time of the year, potentially compounding issues should the weather remain dry.

The federation’s Wairarapa president, David Hayes, said after several wet summers, the province is experiencing a more typical dry summer, although conditions have dried rapidly in southern and eastern parts of the province.

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