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.

Matamata Chronicle - - News -

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.

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