Drought conditions force early apple harvest in Nelson

Tasman orchardists are picking apples early as drought conditions continue to grip the region.

Tougher water restrictions have been introduced and watering cut by 65 percent for those with water permits.

Orchardist Stephen Russ has been watching his apple trees wilting by the day.

There's been no significant rain in the Tasman district since Christmas Day, and row upon row of his apple trees are feeling the pinch.

"Just shows the severity of this drought and dryness around here," said Mr Russ.

His Appleby orchard is on further water restrictions, he's allowed to take less than half of what he was previously allowed.

He says as a result, he will start picking some of his apples now.

"Which is probably a week ahead of normal, just to try and get the crop-load off the trees to help them survive," he said.

Many other apple varieties aren't due to be picked until May - and with less water there's little growth and apples he won't be able to sell. 

"These apples won't size and they'll have sun burning if we have continual hot weather."

Appleby Dairy Farmer Murray King says its the driest he's seen the region in nearly 20 years 

He is frustrated that the Waimea Dam, approved by the local District Council last year, has yet to be started.

"Critically and frustratingly many people are quite angry as it could have been in operation by now if it wasn't for the delays, " said Mr King

So for now farmers and orchardists are at the mercy of the weather, waiting for the heavens to open and deliver to a region that's drying out by the day.