Dry conditions test North Canterbury farmers

A drought-hit Canterbury farm in 2015.
A drought-hit Canterbury farm in 2015. Photo credit: RNZ/Patrick Phelps

By Maja Burry of RNZ.

North Canterbury farmers are starting to be tested by the dry conditions gripping the area.

NIWA's latest hotspot report shows meteorological drought is now found across coastal Hurunui and southern Kaikōura.

Hurunui Adverse Events Committee chairperson Winton Dalley said if there was one thing farmers had learned in the 2014-2017 droughts, it was the need to make decisions early.

"It's good practice to have plans and deadlines in place to destock, send stock out to graze, and buy in supplements while they are available at an affordable price."

Dalley said in other parts of the country there were reports of delays getting stock into the meat works for processing due to the coronavirus outbreak slowing export demand, so booking in early was a must for farmers needed to offload stock.

"Seeking advice and support from your rural professionals is a wise move, whether it is financial, stock health, stock disposal or advising on supplementary feed and green feed crops..... Remember too, looking out for your neighbour is of paramount importance," he said.

Dan Maxwell, who farms sheep and beef near Cheviot, said his property had missed all the rain of late and some springs were drying up.

He agreed it was vital that farmers were decisive over the next month if no substantial rain arrives.

The North Canterbury Rural Support Trust had not yet received any requests for help from farmers, but was aware that morale was slipping in certain areas and was monitoring the situation regularly, a spokesperson said.

Tony Finch of DairyNZ said Kaikōura farmers were reporting similar issues and were being forced to make changes on farm.

"Dryland farmers [are] saying conditions are as bad as they can remember. Even those with the advantages of limited irrigation are experiencing challenges to keep up with livestock demands," Mr Finch said.

According to Niwa, much of the North Island is also suffering from extremely dry conditions. The worst hit area is Northland, where an adverse event has been declared by the government.