Farmers urged to prepare for possible drought
Some experts are warning Waikato farmers to have a drought plan, but farmers will wait and see, reports Ali Tocker.
Waikato farmers are being encouraged to prepare for a dry and hot summer – in case drought eventuates.
While the word being used for now is dry rather than drought, experts are urging farmers to have contingency plans in place, on a ‘‘better safe than sorry’’ basis.
If drought does hit the Waikato, it would be the fourth in the region in five years and could seriously challenge farmers who found themselves under pressure through the previous droughts.
Niwa’s forecast for Waikato for summer, from December to February, is for dry conditions, and normal to below-normal rainfall and soil moisture levels, Niwa client scientist Georgina Griffiths said.
‘‘No-one is using the ‘d’ word yet. The bottom line is it’s a bit early to say drought but, if the dry prediction comes off, in one month it might be a different situation.’’
If current conditions persisted, people could be expected to begin making management decisions in the next four weeks, she said.
Waikato had a cool spring and reasonably dry November, as did most of the rest of the North Island. It was the driest November on record for Te Puke and Rotorua.
Unusually low moisture levels for the time of year were recorded for much of the North Island. November rainfall was less than 50 per cent of normal for November in Waikato-Coromandel, Bay of Plenty and other parts of the
country. It was 70 to 80 per cent of normal in Hamilton in spring.
‘‘Spring rainfall is important from a farming point of view. That’s when things are warming up and that spring rainfall sets you up for summer.
‘‘After such a reasonably dry November, and the fact we’re predicting normal to below-normal rainfall, people are beginning to become wary about the dry,’’ Ms Griffiths said.
Federated Farmers said farmers should prepare contingency plans now in case of drought.
‘‘ Some regions are already noticeably drier than usual, which is causing some concerns. It is important that farmers have contingency plans in place, such as de-stocking and getting in supplementary feeds,’’ adverse events spokeswoman Katie Milne said. ‘‘If farmers have good plans ready, they can be proactive rather than reactive if a severe drought does eventuate.’’
It was hoped any plans made by farmers now would not need to be put into action.
The situation was a reminder of how building more water storage systems could revolutionise New Zealand’s agriculture, Ms Milne said.
‘‘It is times like these we see the real value in building more and better water storage schemes, particularly in areas prone to drought. Good water storage would help buffer farmers from the vagaries of the weather.’’
While local farming iden- tities agree with agency experts that farmers should prepare for drought, they say it is anyone’s guess at this stage whether or not drought will actually eventuate.
Farmers did not put much store in official forecasts, given the number of times they had been wrong, Rural Support Trust regional chairman Neil Bateup said.
‘‘I take a lot of forecasts with a grain of salt. About this time last year, they were talking about last summer being a dry year and we ended up with a wet year.
‘‘ We can expect a dry period at some time in summer but whether it’s going to be a drought or not is anyone’s guess.
‘‘Most farmers are optimistic and look towards a good season.
‘‘We have to be realistic too. We just have to be pre- pared,’’ Mr Bateup said.
Federated Farmers Waikato president James Houghton said there was an expectation among farmers it was going to shape up as a dry summer but no-one wanted that to happen.
‘‘People will manage the situation as it arises. Every year, you go into summer thinking ‘What’s the plan if it’s dry?’, such as looking at de-stocking before Christmas. One of the options is to get in a truck of palm kernel or some baleage [ as back-up stock feed] but be aware prices may be inflated.’’
Farmers’ ideal would be to have a cool, wet summer like last year, when dairy production boomed and hit record levels.
‘‘Some people were disappointed they didn’t get to do much swimming but it made paying the bills a lot easier,’’ Mr Houghton said.
Colourful creation: Hinuera Primary kids with their freshly painted class murals.