Thursday, April 25, 2024

Stock thinned as dry takes hold in Marlborough

Neal Wallace
 Rainfall from June-January just 45% of the long-term average.
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Marlborough is experiencing its driest weather in almost a century. Just 94mm of rain – almost half the average – fell between June and January.

This was the lowest rainfall for that six-month period since 1930.

Farmers are running out of stock water as creeks and dams dry. They are feeding out winter supplement and quitting any store and trading livestock.

Marlborough Federated Farmers president Evan White said farming leaders have written to Agriculture Minister Todd McClay and to the Ministry for Primary Industries advising of the dire situation.

White said the impacted area extends from Upper Moutere and Tapawera in Nelson to include all of Marlborough with the southern parts the hardest hit.

Conditions started to bite about four weeks ago.

“It’s getting a bit serious,” White said.

“Any stock that is store or trading, it’s gone.”

Marlborough Federated Farmers president Evan White said.

A report by the Marlborough District Council reveals just 6.6mm fell in Blenheim in January, the eighth consecutive month of below-average rainfall.

The 194mm that fell from June 2023 to the end of January 2024 was 45% of the long-term average of 436mm.

“This is the lowest rainfall total for any June to January period over 94 years of records, 1930-2024.”

Picton had 26mm for the month, half its average, and Awatere just 9mm. The district’s average rainfall is 52mm. 

The NZ Drought Index as at the start of February rated north and southern Marlborough as extremely dry.

Cape Campbell farmers Rob and Sally Peter are shocked at how quickly conditions have dried since spring.

 Jo Grigg’s Marlborough farm as the province dries out under a scorching sun. Photo: Jo Grigg.

Rob Peter said they acted early to reduce stock numbers to the bare minimum.

Lambs were weaned and sold before Christmas, finishing cattle have also been sold, calves were weaned and sold three months earlier than normal and light replacement and capital stock have been culled.

Sheep nuts are being fed to his two-tooth ewes in preparation for tupping.

While this has solved an immediate problem, Peter said they will have nothing to sell later in the year.

Their coastal farm is exceptionally dry but a network of dams has adequate water for a year.

Peter said drought accompanying an El Niño tends to stick around for a few years.

“If we get rain in March we will be okay. If there is none through until June, then it could be serious.”

Nick Story, the Ministry for Primary Industries’ director of rural communities and farming support, acknowledged the challenges in Marlborough and said it is keeping a close watch.

A group consisting of key sector bodies, the Rural Support Trust, local authorities and MPI is advising on the impacts of the dry conditions and is meeting fortnightly. 

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