Wednesday, April 24, 2024

South Island rain too little, too late

Neal Wallace
Cooler temperatures could negate any benefits of late rain in drought-hit areas.
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Time is running out for drought-hit South Island farmers hoping for a late season flush of feed from autumn rain.

The arrival of autumn has brought cooler temperatures, which farmers fear will negate much of the benefit from any rain that could fall.

Marlborough Federated Farmers president Evan White said the district has had some light frosts.

“We are nearing the end of March and it is going to get colder and we really needed rain before now to boost feed for winter,” he said.

“Each week we are getting less daylight and the ground temperature is cooling down.”

He said soil moisture maps reveal most of the top of the South Island is below wilting point.

Recent rain in Marlborough has been minimal, at 1mm to 2mm, and the drought-affected area is increasing to include the mid and upper Awatere Valley, Linkwater and Rai Valley, areas that were previously hanging on but where farmers are now having to quit stock.

The spreading dry conditions are impacting areas where farmers provide winter grazing for dairy cows.

White, a dairy farmer, is milking three times in two days but will shortly cut back to once a day.

Rain also remains a rare commodity for inland parts of most of the rest of the South Island.

Otago and North Otago have had a few millimetres of rain but it has not been enough to ease ongoing drought conditions.

Otago Federated Farmers president Luke Kane said Central Otago and parts of South Otago are very dry with some farmers having to feed winter crops to young stock.

Kane said forecast wet, cold weather over Easter, while welcomed by some, could be an issue if conditions turn too cold to prompt growth.

North Otago Federated Farmers president Myfanwy Alexander agrees, saying while coastal parts of the province received some rain last weekend, it was patchy.

Her farm in the Waitaki Valley received just 2mm while other areas missed out.

Alexander said feeding out to stock is still widespread and most farmers have so far been able to ration feed without having to buy in.

Omakau farmer Andrew Paterson said the normal autumn rains have been absent from Central Otago and irrigators in the Manuherikia Valley are on 25% restrictions.

He received about 7mm this week but it was patchy, with others getting about 1mm.

More rain was forecast this weekend but Paterson said he was not optimistic with expected falls not yielding any moisture.

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