Rain hasn't removed drought threat for farmers


Recent rain hasn't removed the threat of drought in some regions from an ongoing El Niño weather pattern.

Strong El Niño conditions dominated the Pacific during December 2015 and will continue for three months, the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, a Crown research institute, says in its latest seasonal outlook.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) says it's monitoring the weather situation closely and is keeping ministers updated.

Some parts of Northland received a month's rain in a deluge during the Christmas holidays but other parts of New Zealand remain dry.

"In many of the drought-hit areas, particularly Canterbury and Marlborough, the rain was a great morale booster," says David Wansbrough, MPI's director of resource policy.

"Crop farmers have had a better start to the year, as any good rainfall like this really helps new crop growth. But where pasture has died from over a year of dry weather, more rain will be needed to break the drought and it will be months before production recovers," he says.

Much of Otago didn't receive much rainfall and Strath Taieri locals are saying it's the driest they have ever seen it, he says.

"Driving around the lower and eastern North Island you can see plenty of bales of hay in the paddocks, which shows farmers there have geared up well for a dry summer," Mr Wansbrough says.

Northland did particularly well out of last week's deluge, receiving up to 80mm of rain, but the region had since been hammered by strong easterly winds, which hastened soil drying and damaged crops.

Under El Niño elevated activity in the tropics also means a higher chance that cyclones or ex-cyclones could drop closer to New Zealand, bringing storms and heavy rain to the top and east of the North Island, MPI says.