Canterbury drought forcing farmers to de-stock

Canterbury drought forcing farmers to de-stock

North Canterbury is into the second year of a serious drought, and it's forcing some farmers to take drastic action and de-stock their farms.

The average rainfall for Waipara is 627mm per year, but in the past 12 months it got just 446mm.

Most of that was in January, and since then there's been about a third of the normal amount. In February, only 19mm fell. In March it was 32mm, and April just 16mm.

One farmer says if it doesn't rain soon he'll be forced to get another job.

Omihi farmer Nick Hamilton is in survival mode -- there's barely a blade of grass on his 300 hectare farm and every day he feeds out hay that was set aside for winter.

He's already sent 1200 ewes and 60 cattle out of the district for grazing and he's hoping to have the last 800 gone by next week.

"It's supposed to be a bit easier than this in the autumn time, we expect to be dry in north Canterbury but we didn't predict this," he says.

"To send all our sheep away is unprecedented."

With his whole property de-stocked, Mr Hamilton hopes to get a job at a nearby vineyard just to help pay for the cost of grazing.

His father Ian has farmed here for 50 years; this is the longest drought he can recall.

"We went from one of the wettest winters in 2014 through to virtually nothing for 12 months, nearly two years now," he says.

The problem is in a normal year, 700mm of rain would fall in north Canterbury, but in the last 12 months only 230mm have fallen.

Federated Farmers says the Hamiltons are not alone in de-stocking their property. Last winter 100,000 ewes left the district and this year they're expecting more.

"There's a lot starting to move fortunately with the dairy payout, and they won't like it, but with the dairy payout being low they'll be grazing on the platform," says Federated Farmers' Dan Hodgen.

"So there is opportunity there, but it's just connecting those dots."

Mr Hamilton's now facing the prospect of a job off the farm in a last ditch effort to keep his farming operation afloat.