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.

South Waikato News - - RURAL DELIVERY -

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.

Fairfax NZ

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