Be drought ready, farmers warned
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.
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 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.’’
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 WaikatoCoromandel, Bay of Plenty and other parts of the country. It was 70 to 80 per cent of normal in Hamilton in spring.
‘‘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,’’ Griffiths said.
Rain in the past few days in the Waikato might have eased people’s fears a little, but a clearer picture of the medium to longer-term position would emerge by the end of the month.
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.’’ 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.’’
The current situation was a reminder of how building more water storage systems could revolutionise New Zealand’s agriculture, 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 identities 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 prepared,’’ 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.
Farmers’ ideal would be to have a cool, wet summer like last year, when dairy production boomed.
‘‘Some people were disappointed they didn’t get to do much swimming but it made paying the bills a lot easier,’’ Houghton said.
DairyNZ said farmers should put in place a summer management plan.