Drought looming for Waikato
Rainfall levels are threatening to reach critical status in the tinderdry Waikato, which is experiencing the driest summer in five years. The Ministry for Primary Industries is monitoring the weather closely, but farmers will be left severely out of pocket if conditions get as bad as they did in the summer of 2008.
That drought robbed the farming community of hundreds of millions through lost milk production.
MPI spokesman Stuart Anderson said although farmers had been managing the dry conditions by de-stocking, using supplementary feed, or buying feed in, rainfall levels over coming weeks will be crucial.
Dairy industry body DairyNZ Matthew Newman said milk flows in the Waikato are starting to reduce, but are still ahead of this time last year. However, farmers were taking action to counter the dry spell, sending low-producing cows to the works.
Mr Newman said farmers had been buying significant amounts of the supplementary feed, palm kernel.
Waikato Federated Farmers president James Houghton said the longer the big dry goes on the more desperate people will get.
‘‘I think some farmers are starting to get desperate now and others are two weeks away from getting desperate.
‘‘In the next two weeks, if we don’t get rain, regional councils may start to shut down some of the water takes [for farmers].’’
Mr Houghten said ‘‘abnormal’’ rainfall is needed to get back to normal soil moisture levels because they are ‘‘in major deficit’’.
Matamata-Piako has been particularly hard hit by the bone-dry summer.
Group manager services delivery Fiona Vessey said they’re holding the water alert level at three – a district- wide ban on sprinklers and restricted hand-held hose use.
If no decent rainfall has arrived by midMarch, Ms Vessey said they’d be forced into the critical alert level, or a ban on watering.
‘‘WeRight now there’s nothing on the horizon that looks as though it’s going to change.’’
Nearby Hauraki has a plentiful water source in the Waihou River but district engineer Ken Thompson said they’re bumping up against their maximum take from the Waitakaruru Stream.
Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy can declare a drought when the lack of rainfall has ‘‘economic, environmental and social impact on farming businesses and families and the wider community’’.
DRY-KATO: The lack of rainfall in the Waikato is nearing critical for farmers.